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THE SICILIAN'S TALE.
THE MONK OF CASAL-MAGGIORE.
Finished February 9, 1873.
Once on a time, some centuries
ago, In the hot sunshine two Franciscan friars Wended their weary way, with footsteps slow, Back to their convent, whose white walls and
spires Gleamed on the hillside like a patch of snow;
Covered with dust they were, and torn by briers, And bore like sumpter-mules upon their backs The badge of poverty, their beggar's sacks.
The first was Brother Anthony, a spare
And silent man, with pallid cheeks and thin, Much given to vigils, penance, fasting, prayer,
Solemn and gray, and worn with discipline, As if his body but white ashes were,
Heaped on the living coals that glowed within; A simple monk, like many of his day, Whose instinct was to listen and obey.
A different man was Brother Timothy,
Of larger mould and of a coarser paste; A rubicund and stalwart monk was he,
Broad in the shoulders, broader in the waist, Who often filled the dull refectory
With noise by which the convent was disgraced, But to the mass-book gave but little heed, By reason he had never learned to read.
Now, as they passed the outskirts of a wood,
They saw, with mingled pleasure and surprise, Fast tethered to a tree an ass, that stood
Lazily winking his large, limpid eyes. The farmer Gilbert, of that neighborhood,
His owner was, who, looking for supplies Of fagots, deeper in the wood had strayed, Leaving his beast to ponder in the shade.
As soon as Brother Timothy espied
The patient animal, he said : “Good-lack ! Thus for our needs doth Providence provide ;
We'll lay our wallets on the creature's back.” This being done, he leisurely untied
From head and neck the halter of the jack, And put it round his own, and to the tree Stood tethered fast as if the ass were he.
And, bursting forth into a merry laugh,
He cried to Brother Anthony: “ Away! And drive the ass before
staff ; And when you reach the convent you may say You left me at a farm, half tired and half
Ill with a fever, for a night and day,
Now Brother Anthony, who knew the pranks
Of Brother Timothy, would not persuade
But, being obedient, silently obeyed ;
Drove him before him over hill and glade,
Safe with his provend to the convent gate,
Then Gilbert, laden with fagots for his fire,
Forth issued from the wood, and stood aghast To see the ponderous body of the friar
Standing where he had left his donkey last. Trembling he stood, and dared not venture nigher,
But stared, and gaped, and crossed himself full
For, being credulous and of little wit,
While speechless and bewildered thus he gazed,
And dropped his load of fagots on the ground, Quoth Brother Timothy: “ Be not amazed
That where you left a donkey should be found A poor Franciscan friar, half-starved and crazed,
Standing demure and with a halter bound; But set me free, and hear the piteous story Of Brother Timothy of Casal-Maggiore.
“I am a sinful man, although you see
I wear the consecrated cowl and cape; You never owned an ass, but
owned me, Changed and transformed from my own natural
From which I could not otherwise escape,
* Think of the ignominy I endured ;
Think of the miserable life I led,
The toil and blows to which I was inured,
My wretched lodging in a windy shed, My scanty fare so grudgingly procured, The damp and musty straw that formed my
bed! But, having done this penance for my sins, My life as man and monk again begins.”
The simple Gilbert, hearing words like these,
Was conscience-stricken, and fell down apace Before the friar upon his bended knees,
And with a suppliant voice implored his grace; And the good monk, now very much at ease,
Granted him pardon with a smiling face, Nor could refuse to be that night his guest, It being late, and he in need of rest.
Upon a hillside, where the olive thrives,
With figures painted on its whitewashed walls, The cottage stood ; and near the humming hives
Made murmurs as of far-off waterfalls; A place where those who love secluded lives Might live content, and, free from noise and
brawls, Like Claudian's Old Man of Verona here Measure by fruits the slow-revolving year.
And, coming to this cottage of content,
They found his children, and the buxom wench His wife, Dame Cicely, and his father, bent
· With years and labor, seated on a bench, Repeating over some obscure event
In the old wars of Milanese and French ;
All welcomed the Franciscan, with a sense
When Gilbert told them what had come to pass,
How beyond question, cavil, or surmise, Good Brother Timothy had been their ass, You should have seen the wonder in their
eyes; You should have heard them cry “ Alas! alas !
Have heard their lamentations and their sighs! For all believed the story, and began To see a saint in this afflicted man.
Forthwith there was prepared a grand repast,
To satisfy the craving of the friar After so rigid and prolonged a fast;
The bustling housewife stirred the kitchen fire; Then her two barn-yard fowls, her best and last
Were put to death, at her express desire,
It would not be believed should I repeat
How hungry Brother Timothy appeared ; It was a pleasure but to see him eat, His white teeth flashing through his russet
beard, His face aglow and flushed with wine and meat, His roguish eyes that rolled and laughed and
leered! Lord! how he drank the blood-red country wine As if the village vintage were divine!
Line 15. Then her two favorite pullets and her last