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Clergy, and the parish Church is in ruin—the Monastery having swallowed
the tithes. I leave thee, brother. In some things said I may have erred. Pardon mine infirmity. But think on my words; and, looking on thine abode and on thy garb, ask thy soul this one question, 'Is my life a life of self-denial for God ?' So act as thou shalt find the answer."
.The Monk Ernestus looked up after a time from his reverie: the moonlight still flooded the room, but he was sitting in it alone.
CHAPTER III.-His SACRIFICE.
“Yes, let them pass without a sigh,
“A good time, was it not? my kingly days ?
- 'Tis done and past ; 'twas right, my instinct said ;
ANDREA DEL SARTO.
The gray dawn had come after the moonlight had passed away, and given a weird, chill look to the deserted cloisters. But the sun had risen upon this dim half light, and had filled the heavens with pale gold and pale blue. The cell of the Monk Ernestus had lost the white light and black shadows of the night; and now a mellow light filled the
room, and showed all its features clearly.
The Monk had not retired to his couch. Something of a blight seemed, since yesterday morning, to have come over a life so tranquil and peaceful hitherto. The matins bell rang; but the Solitary had been kneeling on the marble pavement, within the chapel, for some hours before its summons. And, the service over, he proceeded slowly at once to his cell. Until this morning he had never left the antechapel before the last notes of the out-voluntary had ceased their reverberations through the interlacing arches of the roof. He could think best of his painting, and mentally design most originally, listening to those mellow tones and deep rollings. The half tint cast over all, the shadowy massing of the groups, the soaring columns and the springing arches—all these were so many allies to his free imagination. He found it hard, very often—'twas true enough-to banish such thoughts from his very prayers. But, these being over, he felt now that too often he had let his mind return, as though freed, to his beloved art-"His beloved Art !" there it was. Not his beloved
CONFLICT AND CONVICTION.
Master. Alas! was not much of what the stranger had said indeed true ?
How sweetly the sunlight stole in slantwise now upon the green ; and see, one single crimson sweetbriar rose it had found straggling in, against a background of dark, clean stone. What a broad, pearly shadow it threw, and how the crimson glowed, like a warm window in a gray aisle. The Monk lingered, and was treasuring the gem of light and colour for future setting in some precious volume. But a sudden chango came into his face, and he started like a wrongdoer. “Yea,” he muttered, as he passed into the hall, “what self-denial is there in this my life? Had I the world to choose from, and merely pleasure to consult, I would choose
my palette and
cell.” He went into the little cell, and sat down, somewhat wearily, on his low bench. The sun was veering round now, within range of the turret in which his window was set. Just a long rule of light pierced the mullion and glorified the room. It rested full on one of the saintly paintings on the wall. The Virgin with the Babe smiled with a sweet calmness that was made almost supernatural in the radiance; and a golden rod lay across the table and flashed from the burnished gold of a priceless manuscript thereon. "Was this foreign saint's work also a sensual delight ?” the Monk said, almost bitterly.
Nearer the window his little desk and working stool were placedhis carefully-prepared pigments beside them. That long sunbeam lay right across his yesterday's work. There it was. He remembered with what a lingering reluctance he had quitted it; with what eagerness he would, but for last night, have returned to it now. Two sides of a border he had nearly finished. He had left off at the twentyseventh verse of the nineteenth chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel. He had woven a little nest into the grass on the ground, showing the eggs within ; above it, a lark that had quitted it was soaring, singing upward toward the sky. The lark was completed, all but one wing; and the gold grounding left off unfinished, just where it met his head. It looked very lovely now; and the brushes lay ready, and the gold and the colours on the slab.
The Monk had risen, and was looking at it mournfully, wistfully. What a change since yesterday! Could it be a right and necessary change, that seemed to threaten a sadness upon, if not an overturning of, his hitherto beautiful, peaceful life?
'Surely,” said he, half aloud,“ the stranger was over strict. Why should I heed him ? that the work is beautiful will not the less render it acceptable to God. And for me, it seems my very life!" He mused in silence, still looking at the painting. He stood, scarcely moving, for more than an hour. Then he said, “The Monk was right. If it be
my chief joy and delight, it is also my god.”
He looked up with eyes in which tears had been; for, having no ties, no loves, no business or pleasure of the world, his Art had become to him his love, his wife, his child; and now these, in one day, were going to die. Never more should those last western rays be gathered up eagerly at that turret window for the petal of a flower or the feather of a bird; never more the morning greet his fresh return to his delicious toil. Henceforth, his life was changed; henceforth the mellow soft lustre had left it, and instead must come the chill, hard gray of dawn. Hitherto-he saw it now-life had been a sensual and carnal pleasing of self. Henceforth, with God's grace helping him, it should be a sternly self-denying pleasing of God. He had felt-reluctantly felt-last night, that it would come to this. Since, too, he had tried to argue away what all the while he believed true. He had tried to feel anger at the want of charity of that stranger. But his conscience had at last gone over to the stranger's side. The truth had stood, like a stern cold rock, and the weak waves of his mind had wearied them on it in vain.
They drew off now, and gave over the conflict. That last hour's musing had finished all. And now the sadness in his face changed to a kind of stern, strong joy, as he gave up, for his Master's sake, all that had made that solitary life bright and sunny. The full sunbeams poured on the wall as he took the pictures down. Carefully, reverently ;-he would not destroy, only lay them aside. 'Twould be some time, he thought, ere he ceased the mechanical glance towards them. But then he would not be often in his cell now, excepting on his knees. Even at such times, now he recalled, wandering looks had stolen towards the wall. The black bars came out rather sullenly and gloomily when he had removed the colour and design that had made them bright as Aaron's rod. He shut the books up one by one, and piled them on the table. His chemicals, and those glowing colours that had resulted from them, these he gathered together, also those cunning brushes and the piled sketches, and put all away in a box that he would never need to open. The other simple adornments---drapery, and the like—these went in with them. The last was his little desk, and the yet open volume upon it; half, clad in splendour; lialf, smooth, clean, inviting vellum. That last smear of the gold would never spread further; that quick beating wing would never find its fellow; the sticks and twigs of the nest would remain on the white vellum, and never repose in a background.
“Dehold, we have forsaken all and followed Thee." That was a good text for a Colophon ;--not at the end of a volume, but at the close of his Art. The “all” might not in itself be much ; but it was his all: it was much to him--fame, occupation, pleasure, went with it. Remember this, if it seem a false sentimentality that thus describes the Monk's sacrifice as made at such a pang.
The book was closed now, and laid aside in the box; and that concluded the matter. How changed the cell looked! How bare the walls, how empty the tables and shelves-just what you would imagine a monk's cell now. “And that is as it should be," said the Monk Ernestus, as the same thought crossed his mind.
One sole ornament, if you will call it so, he fastened ozz the wall, where the paintings had been: it was the little briar cross left by the stranger Monk in his room.
CHAPTER IV.-HOW HE KEPT HIS RESOLVE.
Come, Resignation, spirit meek,
The Monk Ernestus was, from that day, a changed man.
It was as though he had stripped the walls of his heart of all bright hues, as well as the walls of his cell; for, always of a kindly disposition, he had been hitherto harmlessly genial, and a favourer of due relaxation and innocent mirth. But now, such a hold had the conversation of that June night taken on him, that you had scarce known him for the
He seemed to shrink from any, however innocent, laughter and jest; his fasts were long, and his food always coarse; his eyes were seldom raised from the ground; all pleasure, yea, all that was not tinged with sadness seemed now a carnal pleasing of self. “I must redeem the time,” he murmured to himself; “I have loitered and slumbered upon the road; I must run now where others may walk; I must leave flowers ungathered that to others are allowed.”
And he kept to his resolve. The past was past to him, except for sorrowful thought thereon. Long into the night did the moon, flooding into that turret chamber, find the Monk upon his knees, and that, after a day of anxiety and toil; for now the Monk Ernestus became well known in the hamlet, and that not as a star in the sky of art, but as a dear and household name. “When the ear heard him, then it blessed him; and when the eye saw him, it gave witness to him. Because he delivered the poor that cried, the fatherless, and him that had none to help him, the blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon him, and he caused the widow's heart to sing for joy. He was eyes to the blind, and feet was he to the lame." These words of Job describe well the Pastor's work, and this work Ernestus had taken up with no faltering hand.
He wondered more, the more he came to sec of the world without the Monastery walls, at what a selfish luxurious life that old life had been. Day after day had passed, and a quiet song of content and selfsufficient enjoyment had run through his hours. Sorrow and sighing had gone on about him; crime had run wild in the abodes within his sight and hearing; while he went on painting so calmly, and with such a twilight and unruffled life, in his little cell. He had looked at those cottages-in which he was now a part of the life—as being but a detail of the loveliness that pleased his eye, as he watched the broad massing of the shadow and light, in that peaceful landscape, at the sunset hour. The cottages that dotted the hill or edged the river, with their quiet look, and gray ascending smoke, and bits of bright garden, and setting of elms,—these he had but regarded as a sweet picture. He had never thought of the solemn human story that was going on under each of those roofs; he had never considered that here were Immortal Souls running to seed, and that for want of a Gardener. It had never occurred to him, as he illuminated a border to the words, how little the meaning of them had gone home to his heart: “I was an hungred, and ye gave Me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink; I was a stranger,
took Me in; naked, and ye clothed Me; I was sick, and ye visited Me; I was in prison, and ye came unto Me." How he had admired the beauty of these passages! How he had worked, thought and hand, to adorn them! But how little had their real meaning and sweetness touched his heart, while, surrounded by the beauty in his cell, he had painted until the sun dipped behind the hills; and then had leant, in a reverie, drinking in beauty from the window. Or he had passed out, into the wood, to hear the nightingale’s introit between the Service of the day and the Service of the night, and to think luxuriantly of the Rest to come, which, he nou felt, ought to be the crown of labour here.
But now he passed among the cottages and huts, like an angel on his errand of mercy, and sinners told him of their sins, and mourners of their sorrows; and he could here counsel and advise, and there comfort and cheer; and here, again, reprove and warn, and remove, by God's grace, hindrances from souls, and snares wherewith Satan would bind them. Mothers sought his wise fatherly counsel for their erring sons; those that had seemed hardened to his warning sent for him on the bed of sickness or of death, and bread cast upon the waters returned after all. And, he being the only one of the brotherhood thus occupied, there was work for morning and noon, and almost for night; and so the days went by.
But stronger things than man's mind and body will wear under continued strain and labour, without rest or calm; and the Monk Ernestus felt the reaction of that strong purpose which had launched