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by [?]


The moon shone fitfully through the clouds on to the weary face of Brother Jasper kneeling in his cell. His hands were fervently clasped, uplifted to the crucifix that hung on the bare wall, and he was praying, praying as he had never prayed before. All through the hours of night, while the monks were sleeping, Brother Jasper had been supplicating his God for light; but in his soul remained a darkness deeper than that of the blackest night. At last he heard the tinkling of the bell that called the monks to prayers, and with a groan lifted himself up. He opened his cell door and went out into the cloister. With down-turned face he walked along till he came to the chapel, and, reaching his seat, sank again heavily to his knees.

The lights in the chapel were few enough, for San Lucido was nearly the poorest monastery in Spain; a few dim candles on the altar threw long shadows on the pavement, and in the choir their yellow glare lit up uncouthly the pale faces of the monks. When Brother Jasper stood up, the taper at his back cast an unnatural light over him, like a halo, making his great black eyes shine strangely from their deep sockets, while below them the dark lines and the black shadow of his shaven chin gave him an unearthly weirdness. He looked like a living corpse standing in the brown Franciscan cowl–a dead monk doomed for some sin to wander through the earth till the day, the Day of Judgment; and in the agony of that weary face one could almost read the terrors of eternal death.

The monks recited the service with their heavy drone, and the sound of the harsh men’s voices ascended to the vault, dragging along the roof. But Jasper heard not what they said; he rose and knelt as they did; he uttered the words; he walked out of the church in his turn, and through the cloister to his cell. And he threw himself on the floor and beat his head against the hard stones, weeping passionately. And he cried out,–

‘What shall I do? What shall I do?’

For Brother Jasper did not believe.


Two days before, the monk, standing amid the stunted shrubs on the hill of San Lucido, had looked out on the arid plain before him. It was all brown and grey, the desolate ground strewn with huge granite boulders, treeless; and for the wretched sheep who fed there, thin and scanty grass; the shepherd, in his tattered cloak, sat on a rock, moodily, paying no heed to his flock, dully looking at the desert round him. Brother Jasper gazed at the scene as he had gazed for three years since he had come to San Lucido, filled with faith and great love for God. In those days he had thought nothing of the cold waste as his eyes rested on it; the light of heaven shed a wonderful glow on the scene, and when at sunset the heavy clouds were piled one above the other, like huge, fantastic mountains turned into golden fire, when he looked beyond them and saw the whole sky burning red and then a mass of yellow and gold, he could imagine that God was sitting there on His throne of fire, with Christ on His right hand in robes of light and glory, and Mary the Queen on His left. And above them the Dove with its outstretched wings, the white bird hovering in a sea of light! And it seemed so near! Brother Jasper felt in him almost the power to go there, to climb up those massy clouds of fire and attain the great joy–the joy of the presence of God.

The sun sank slowly, the red darkened into purple, and over the whole sky came a colour of indescribable softness, while in the east, very far away, shone out the star. And soon the soft faint blue sank before the night, and the stars in the sky were countless; but still in the west there was the shadow of the sun, a misty gleam. Over the rocky plain the heavens seemed so great, so high, that Brother Jasper sank down in his insignificance; yet he remembered the glories of the sunset, and felt that he was almost at the feet of God.