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THORNS WITHOUT FLOWERS.
him, like an arrow, into the toil and labour which, hitherto, had been as little realized or heeded by him as a storm at sea to a man seventy miles inland.
He had made no compromise between his inclination and his duty. When he locked that box, with the vellum, and the colours, and the paintings in it, he had also locked therein his Art as well. Never had he since touched a brush, nor looked at a missal, save for devotion. He had bome ridicule, disappointment, from his brethren, yea, even reproach and invective; but he had never swerved; at least, in action he had never faltered. I say not but, at times, a lingering look backwards would arise in his heart; I say not that no repining, rebellious hours came, to be grappled with by vigil and prayer. Life would sometimes seem hard and dry, and he rose weary in the morning to weary work in the day; and each day was like the preceding, and the next would be like this; and each brought labour, and none brought rest. For his times of ceasing from labour were times of constant religious exercise, and that, if a lull to the heart, was none to the brain.
So rigorous was he, indeed, that he would not permit himself, in passing through the wood or the lane, or by the stream, to notice and examine those scenes and details of loveliness, the “ harvest of a quiet eye,” which he had once so enjoyingly gleaned. The copse of primroses in Spring, so full that some were spilled down the side of the bank; above them, the early mist of green in the hedge; and, higher, the larch, covered with little paint-brushes, full and thick with emerald green. From these he turned away now, where he had mused by the hour. Nor the rustling bead-eyed mice, in Summer, close to the trunk on which he sat; nor the quick squirrel; nor the rare beetle; nor the lizard, the butterfly, the bird; nor the chrysalis, swung like a hammock; nor the caterpillar crossing the path,-none of these detained him
now, far less lured paper and pencil from his robe. They would but hav served to recall what had better be forgotten; and life had other, nobler, ends than the heeding such trifles now.
So the Monk's life passed, and, for the first year, the mere impetus of that first push carried him on through all. Still, man is but man, and that unnatural strength began to flag, and that overwrought energy to fail. Spare diet, little sleep, no recreation ; a sort of depression supervened on these, that the Monk could not shake off. He thought it a carnal longing for the life he had renounced, and sought to meet and overcome it by more watching and fasting, and more incessant labour for the Lord. In vain, however; the feeling was not spiritual, but simply physical ; the body was wearing out, was out of tone and tune ; the nerves jarred painfully, merest trifles availed to shock them; an uncontrollable irritability even at times, during the day, sent him, mourning, to pass the night on his knees.
And the change was patent in his look ; his high smooth forehead began to set, almost invariably, in drawn and painful wrinkles; his upright bearing became a stoop; his pleasant smile a brooding gloom. Little children asked their mothers what made the Father so sad? “ He has no little ones, my darlings,” they answered, " and no home." This was their simple and natural explanation; they knew little of the struggle that was ageing, and indeed killing, their friend.
At the end of the second year, you would assuredly have passed the Monk Ernestus unrecognized, had you only known him in his days of Art and ease; and the monks, beholding him, felt awed, and said to one another, “ Two years more, and we shall chant beside his
CHAPTER V.-His FCLLER WISDOM.
Our work,' said I, 'was well begun,
Then, from thy breast what thought,
So sad a sigh has brought ?'”—Two APRIL MORNINGS.
“ The clouds that gather round the setting sun
ODE ON INTIMATIONS OF IMMORTALITY,
The June had again come round; and, on its first evening, the Monk Ernestus had re-entered his cell, weary, faint, and discouraged, from a long day's work, entailing miles of walking in the heat. Much in his work had dispirited and depressed him; more in himself had disappointed him to the heart's core. “I wearied not of my painting, for that I loved. Did I, indeed, love my Master, His work would be an ever-increasing joy ; not, alas ! only increasingly an effort and a trouble. Earthly nature, wilt thou never be subdued ? Soul, wilt thou never burst thy trammels, and soar? 'Lovest thou Me ?' Ah, Master, did I so, it were not so hard to give this poor life to the pasturing thy lambs, thy sheep!"
He sat and mused, and the last red squares of sunlight grew redder on the bare and desolate wall, that, like that human heart, had laid aside its glad tints for a blank hue.
“So dull-hearted, so lazy, so selfish am I, that I long, with a coward longing, for the quiet and repose of death, and that just as life
hath but begun to be lived. Oh for St. Paul's unresting spirit, that, through weariness and painfulness, held ever on, for the love of his dear Lord !”
The last squares of golden light were diminishing to bars, and the san was ready to depart. The monk looked up at the wall, not now with an instinct for the pictures, but with an instinct that had grown, since those old days, for that withered briar-thorn Cross, which he had so hung that those last sunbeams, type of life's ending, cast on it a glory. A look of surprise came into his face. The black withered stick had changed its appearance, and, twisted about its stem, smiled the red buds and warm blossom3 of the sweet-briar flowers! That Cross had not disappeared ; but, stranger yet, had it blossomed ?
Those last ruddy bars of sunlight had dwindled down, and passed away; and the warm twilight had paled and died out too, and the broad moon was looking into that turret cell again.
Ernestus was sitting by his table, and the wreathed Cross stood by his side, when that old-remembered tap was heard at the door, and the Black Monk entered once again.
“This was then thy token, brother ?” Ernestus pointed to the flowers upon
the cross. “Yea, for I came to-day to thy cell, and, lo! thou wert absent. I came, and it saddened my heart to come, oh, my brother!"
“Yea, did it so still ?” Ernestus said, sadly and humbly. “Blessed be thy surgery, faithful friend; cut yet deeper, ay, lower than the quick, even to the house of life, if thy Master bids thee. Cut out what thou yet findest carnal—too much there is—in this earthward heart !"
"I have heard much of thee, Brother Ernestus, and I came from mine own retirement to visit thee again; but I found thy cell changed, and methought I had mistaken my way. I gather that more there is than that which had reached me concerning thee and thy matters. What mean these bare walls, this absence of all trace of thy once-loved Art? And what meaneth this change that I see in thee—this look of premature age—this furrowed brow--this bent head and haggard look of illness? I marked thee walking through the wood this evening, thy step was feeble and slow, for its former alertness; thy form bent, for its old uprightness. No more didst thou panse, as enjoying all God's fair works, but didst pass ever on, mechanically and sadly, with looks still fixed on the ground.”
“I own it, brother, I own it,” said the Monk Ernestus. “Thou hast hit the mark, and probed the wound. The cell, as thou seest, is bare, and the implements of idol-worship gone; but the carnal craving for ease and pleasure hath, I doubt not, its altar in the heart's heart still. Else why this sadness, which my look, my manner too plainly reveals ? Were my Master's love the sole or chief occupant of my heart, my Master's work would not be wearing this poor body to the grave. Thou justly reprovest me, my brother; but I am weak and foolish, and methinks I could weep as a child, where I should labour and endure as a man. Yet have I striven against this feeling; whole nights, brother, have I spent on my knees; I have chastened my body with fasting ; I have walked, when I was weary unto death, long miles in the burning heat, that I might visit my Master in the person of one of His brethren. Alas, my carnal nature was still strong within me! My sensual heart has whispered that life was hard, and dull, and dry; and a carnal craving for rest has insupportably weighed me down, having only just begun to labour. I have risen weary in the morning, and laboured weary through the day, and have laid down at night weary even to the death. And—bear with me, my brother, nor scorn me too much–I cannot choose but long earnestly for the Rest for which I have not laboured. I cannot help an intense gladness and feeling of relief at the thought that I shall soon leave this work, which should be so dear, and lay me down there, where the weary are at rest. I feel urged to cry out, “Oh, Master, be not angry with me. I thought to do double work for time misspent; I thought to become, of thy sole grace and goodness, a great champion for my Lord. But now I could be content to creep, the least and last of all, into the Outer Courts of Heaven, and obtain but rest, leaving rapture for Thy Saints.'”
The stranger would have spoken, but Ernestus quickly prevented him.
“ Mistake me not,” he said, “I have felt peace and joy in my Master's work, but that seems more and more passing from me, instead of increasing. That old fire, and energy, and joy, they seem dying out like straw flames, and an ever increasing lethargy steals over the embers. But it will be over soon; the depression and the heartsinking, the disappointment and the self-scorn; the slack performance of that my mind carnestly intends. I thought to walk, even on the boisterous waters, to my Lord. I am sinking, because my heart fails, and is become faint-I shall sink, but I shall not perish. I cryday and night I cry— Lord, save me!' And He will. I shall hear a reproof; I shall bow my head in shame; yet will He catch me by the hand, even while He chides my little faith, and less love. Near the presence mayest thou stand, oh, Strong and Unbending! Yet wilt thou search for me in the Outer Courts, that I may then thank my reprover.”
The Black Monk could keep silence no longer. Not stern, nor unbending was his look now. His eyes glistened full of tears, his firm voice shook, that he could scarce command his utterance, " Oh, good servant of the Lord,” he cried, “devoted, earnest, but mistaken! thy Lord hath yet work for thee to do for Him, and I am sent to stop
thy squandering of His treasure. Was not thy life one of those talents from thy Lord's stores, placed in thine hands to use for Him ? I reproved thee because thon didst let it lie idle, unimproved, untraded with. Shall I not reprove thee that thou tradest with it thus recklessly, prodigally, without thrift? Is this to be a faithful steward of thy Lord's money? What! when He cometh, shall there be but the increase of two years' trading, when there should have been the goodly accumulation of perchance forty or fifty ? More gradually the store should grow, but in the end the heap should be exceeding far that
which the furious energy of a few months could have piled up . yea, and its materials withal of a better and more valuable kind.
"I spake heatedly, and perhaps over-earnestly last time, stirred by all I saw in and around this Monastery; and thou didst mistake my meaning. It pleaseth not God to see man miserable, though it pleaseth Him not to see him self-indulgent utterly, having specially vowed self-denial. Thou hadst not thought thy life one of self-indulgence; and the reaction of thy discovery has been too violent. Truth lies between the swing of the pendulum.
“ Thon lookest incredulous. Hear me further. Can the bow that is never unbent send, in the end, as many and as well-directed and sus