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77.—THE LABOURER'S NOONDAY HYMN.
altar hymn trans-gress-ed
Nor will He turn His ear aside
What though our burden be not light,
Blessed are the moments, doubly blest
Why should we crave a hallowed spot ?
A church in every grove that spreads
to heaven! the industrious sun
Once on a time two poor old widows lived in the same hamlet, and under the same roof. But though
the cottages joined, and one roof covered them, they had each a separate dwelling; and although they were alike in age and circumstances, yet, in other respects, they were very different, for one dame was covetous, though she had little to save, and the other was liberal, though she had little to give.
Now, on the rising ground opposite to the widows cottages, stood a monastery where a few pious and charitable brethren spent their time in prayer, labour, and good works. And with the alms of these monks, and the kindness of neighbours, and because their wants were few, the old women dwelt in comfort, and had daily bread, and lay warm at night. Now, one evening when the covetous widow was having supper, there came a knock at her door. Before she opened it, she hastily put away the remains of her meal. “For," said she, “it is a stormy night, and ten to one some belated vagabond wants shelter, and when there are victuals on the table, every fool must be asked to sup.
But when she opened the door, a monk came in, who had his cowl pulled over his head to shelter him from the storm. The widow was much disconcerted at having kept one of the brotherhood waiting, but the monk stopped her apologies, saying, “I fear I cut short your evening meal, my daughter.”
“Now, in the name of ill luck, how came he to guess that?” thought the widow, as with anxious civility she pressed the monk to take some supper after his walk, for the good woman always felt hospitably inclined towards any one who was likely to return her kindness sevenfold. The brother, however,
refused to sup, and as he seated himself the widow looked sharply through her spectacles, to see if she could gather from any distension of the folds of his frock whether a loaf, a bottle of cordial, or a new winter's cloak were most likely to crown the visit. No undue protuberance being visible about the monk's person, she turned her eyes to his face, and found that her visitor was one of the brotherhood whom she had not seen before ; and not only was his face unfamiliar, it was utterly unlike the kindly but rough countenances of her charitable patrons. None that she had ever seen boasted the noble beauty, the refined features of the monk before her; and she could not but notice that, although only one rushlight illumined her room, and though the monk's cowl went far to shade him even from that, yet there seemed always to be a bright light upon his face. Her curiosity must have been greatly moved, had not greed made her more anxious to learn what he brought than who he was.
“It is a terrible night," quoth the monk at length, "Such tempest without only gives zest to the indoor comforts of the wealthy; but it chills the very marrow of the poor and destitute."
Ay, indeed,” sniffed the widow with a shiver; “if it were not for the charity of good Christians, what would poor folk do for comfort on such an evening as this ?”
" It was that very thought, my daughter," said the monk with a sudden earnestness on his face," that brought me forth even now through the storm to your cottage."
“Heaven reward you !" cried the widow, fervently.
“Heaven does reward the charitable,” replied the monk. “To no truth do the Scriptures bear such constant and unbroken witness, even as it is written, He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and look, what he layeth out, it shall be paid him again."
“What a blessed thing it must be to be able to do good !” sighed the widow, piously wishing in her heart that the holy man would not delay to earn his recompense.
'My daughter,” said the monk, “that blessing is not withheld from you. It is to ask your help for those in greater need than yourself that I am come to-night.” And forthwith the good brother began to tell how two strangers had sought shelter in the monastery. Their house had been struck by lightning, and burnt with all it contained, and they, aged, poor, and friendless, were exposed to the fury of the storm.. “Our house is but a poor one,” continued the monk; "the strangers' lodging-room was already full, and we are quite without the means of making these poor souls comfortable. You, at least, have a sound roof over your head, and if you can spare one or two things for the night, they shall be restored to-morrow, when some of our guests depart.”
The widow could hardly conceal her vexation and disappointment. “Now dear heart, holy father!” cried she, “is there not a rich body in the place that you come for charity to a poor old widow like me, that am more in a case to borrow myself than to lend to others ?"