Page images

Words will not serve me, alms alone suffice;
Even while I speak perchance my first-born dies."

"Woman!" Tritemius answered, " from our door None go unfed; hence are we always poor:

25 A single soldo is our only store.

Thou hast our prayers;—what can we give thee more?"

"Give me," she said, "the silver candlesticks
On either side of the great crucifix.

God well may spare them on His errands sped, 30 Or He can give you golden ones instead."

Then spake Tritemius, "Even as thy word,
Woman, so be it! (Our most gracious Lord,
Who loveth mercy more than sacrifice,
Pardon me if a human soul I prize

35 Above the gifts upon His altar piled!)

Take what thou askest, and redeem thy child.”

But his hand trembled as the holy alms
He placed within the beggar's eager palms;
And as she vanished down the linden shade,
40 He bowed his head and for forgiveness prayed.

So the day passed, and when the twilight came
He woke to find the chapel all aflame,

And, dumb with grateful wonder, to behold
Upon the altar candlesticks of gold!



PIERO LUCA, known of all the town

As the gray porter by the Pitti wall
Where the noon shadows of the gardens fall,
Sick and in dolor, waited to lay down

5 His last sad burden, and beside his mat
The barefoot monk of La Certosa sat.

Unseen, in square and blossoming garden drifted,
Soft sunset lights through green Val d'Arno sifted;
Unheard, below the living shuttles shifted

10 Backward and forth, and wove, in love or strife,
In mirth or pain, the mottled web of life:
But when at last came upward from the street
Tinkle of bell and tread of measured feet,
The sick man started, strove to rise in vain,
15 Sinking back heavily with a moan of pain.
And the monk said, "'T is but the Brotherhood
Of Mercy going on some errand good:

6. The monastery of La Certosa is about four miles distant from Florence, the scene of this little poem.

8. The Val d'Arno is the valley of the river Arno, upon which Florence lies.

16. The Brethren of the Misericordia, an association which ad its origin in the thirteenth century, is composed mainly of the wealthy and prosperous, whose duty it is to nurse the sick. to aid those who have been injured by accident, and to secure decent burial to the poor and friendless. They are summoned by the sound of a bell, and, when it is heard, the member slips away from ball-room, or dinner party, or wherever he may be puts on the black robe and hood, entirely concealing his face, slit openings being provided for the eyes, and performs the

Their black masks by the palace-wall I see." Piero answered faintly, "Woe is me! 2c This day for the first time in forty years

In vain the bell hath sounded in my ears, Calling me with my brethren of the mask, Beggar and prince alike, to some new task Of love or pity, — haply from the street 25 To bear a wretch plague-stricken, or, with feet Hushed to the quickened ear and feverish brain, To tread the crowded lazaretto's floors, Down the long twilight of the corridors, Midst tossing arms and faces full of pain. 30 I loved the work: it was its own reward. I never counted on it to offset My sins, which are many, or make less my To the free grace and mercy of our Lord; But somehow, father, it has come to be 35 In these long years so much a part of me, I should not know myself, if lacking it, But with the work the worker too would die, And in my place some other self would sit Joyful or sad, - what matters, if not I? Woe is me!"

40 And now all 's over.


"My son,"

The monk said soothingly, "thy work is done;
And no more as a servant, but the guest
Of God thou enterest thy eternal rest.

No toil, no tears, no sorrow for the lost

45 Shall mar thy perfect bliss. Thou shalt sit down Clad in white robes, and wear a golden crown Forever and forever." — Piero tossed

On his sick-pillow: "Miserable me !

I am too poor for such grand company;

duty assigned to him. This perfect concealment is to a.d an securing the perfect equality enjoined by the Order.

50 The crown would be too heavy for this gray
Old head; and God forgive me if I say

It would be hard to sit there night and day,
Like an image in the Tribune, doing naught
With these hard hands, that all my life have

55 Not for bread only, but for pity's sake.

I'm dull at prayers: I could not keep awake, Counting my beads. Mine's but a crazy head, Scarce worth the saving, if all else be dead. And if one goes to heaven without a heart, 60 God knows he leaves behind his better part. I love my fellow-men: the worst I know I would do good to. Will death change me so That I shall sit among the lazy saints, Turning a deaf ear to the sore complaints 65 Of souls that suffer? Why, I never yet Left a poor dog in the strada hard beset, Or ass o'erladen! Must I rate man less Than dog or ass, in holy selfishness?

Methinks (Lord, pardon, if the thought be sin !) 70 The world of pain were better, if therein One's heart might still be human, and desires Of natural pity drop upon its fires

Some cooling tears."

Thereat the pale monk crossed His brow, and, muttering, "Madman! thou art


75 Took up his pyx and fled; and, left alone, The sick man closed his eyes with a great groan That sank into a prayer, 66

Thy will be done!"

53. The Tribune is a hall in the Uffizi Palace in Florence here are assembled some of the most world-renowned statues

ncluding the Venus de' Medici.

66. Strada, street.

Then was he made aware, by soul or ear,

Of somewhat pure and holy bending o'er him, Bo And of a voice like that of her who bore him, Tender and most compassionate: "Never fear! For heaven is love, as God himself is love; Thy work below shall be thy work above." And when he looked, lo! in the stern monk's place 85 He saw the shining of an angel's face!

The Traveller broke the pause. "I've seen
The Brothers down the long street steal,
Black, silent, masked, the crowd between,
And felt to doff my hat and kneel
90 With heart, if not with knee, in prayer,
For blessings on their pious care.”




[SAMUEL SEWALL was one of a family notable in New England annals, and himself an eminent man in his generation. He was born in England in 1652, and was brought by his father to this country in 1661; but his father and grandfather

86. The poem of The Brother of Mercy forms a part of The Tent on the Beach, in which Whittier pictures himself, the Traveller (Bayard Taylor), the Man of Books (J. T. Fields), camping apon Salisbury beach and telling stories.

« PreviousContinue »