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Where There Is Nothing, There Is God
by [?]

The little wicker houses at Tullagh, where the Brothers were accustomed to pray, or bend over many handicrafts, when twilight had driven them from the fields, were empty, for the hardness of the winter had brought the brotherhood together in the little wooden house under the shadow of the wooden chapel; and Abbot Malathgeneus, Brother Dove, Brother Bald Fox, Brother Peter, Brother Patrick, Brother Bittern, Brother Fair-Brows, and many too young to have won names in the great battle, sat about the fire with ruddy faces, one mending lines to lay in the river for eels, one fashioning a snare for birds, one mending the broken handle of a spade, one writing in a large book, and one shaping a jewelled box to hold the book; and among the rushes at their feet lay the scholars, who would one day be Brothers, and whose school-house it was, and for the succour of whose tender years the great fire was supposed to leap and flicker. One of these, a child of eight or nine years, called Olioll, lay upon his back looking up through the hole in the roof, through which the smoke went, and watching the stars appearing and disappearing in the smoke with mild eyes, like the eyes of a beast of the field. He turned presently to the Brother who wrote in the big book, and whose duty was to teach the children, and said, ‘Brother Dove, to what are the stars fastened?’ The Brother, rejoicing to see so much curiosity in the stupidest of his scholars, laid down the pen and said, ‘There are nine crystalline spheres, and on the first the Moon is fastened, on the second the planet Mercury, on the third the planet Venus, on the fourth the Sun, on the fifth the planet Mars, on the sixth the planet Jupiter, on the seventh the planet Saturn; these are the wandering stars; and on the eighth are fastened the fixed stars; but the ninth sphere is a sphere of the substance on which the breath of God moved in the beginning.’

‘What is beyond that?’ said the child. ‘There is nothing beyond that; there is God.’

And then the child’s eyes strayed to the jewelled box, where one great ruby was gleaming in the light of the fire, and he said, ‘Why has Brother Peter put a great ruby on the side of the box?’

‘The ruby is a symbol of the love of God.’

‘Why is the ruby a symbol of the love of God?’

‘Because it is red, like fire, and fire burns up everything, and where there is nothing, there is God.’

The child sank into silence, but presently sat up and said, ‘There is somebody outside.’

‘No,’ replied the Brother. ‘It is only the wolves; I have heard them moving about in the snow for some time. They are growing very wild, now that the winter drives them from the mountains. They broke into a fold last night and carried off many sheep, and if we are not careful they will devour everything.’

‘No, it is the footstep of a man, for it is heavy; but I can hear the footsteps of the wolves also.’

He had no sooner done speaking than somebody rapped three times, but with no great loudness.

‘I will go and open, for he must be very cold.’

‘Do not open, for it may be a man-wolf, and he may devour us all.’

But the boy had already drawn back the heavy wooden bolt, and all the faces, most of them a little pale, turned towards the slowly-opening door.

‘He has beads and a cross, he cannot be a man-wolf,’ said the child, as a man with the snow heavy on his long, ragged beard, and on the matted hair, that fell over his shoulders and nearly to his waist, and dropping from the tattered cloak that but half-covered his withered brown body, came in and looked from face to face with mild, ecstatic eyes. Standing some way from the fire, and with eyes that had rested at last upon the Abbot Malathgeneus, he cried out, ‘O blessed abbot, let me come to the fire and warm myself and dry the snow from my beard and my hair and my cloak; that I may not die of the cold of the mountains, and anger the Lord with a wilful martyrdom.’