The Theologian's Tale - The Wayside Inn - Part Second



    "Hads't thou stayed, I must have fled!"
    That is what the Vision said.

    In his chamber all alone,
    Kneeling on the floor of stone,
    Prayed the Monk in deep contrition
    For his sins of indecision,
    Prayed for greater self-denial
    In temptation and in trial;
    It was noonday by the dial,
    And the Monk was all alone.

    Suddenly, as if it lightened,
    An unwonted splendor brightened
    All within him and without him
    In that narrow cell of stone;
    And he saw the Blessed Vision
    Of our Lord, with light Elysian
    Like a vesture wrapped about him,
    Like a garment round him thrown.

    Not as crucified and slain,
    Not in agonies of pain,
    Not with bleeding hands and feet,
    Did the Monk his Master see;
    But as in the village street,
    In the house or harvest-field,
    Halt and lame and blind he healed,
    When he walked in Galilee.

    In an attitude imploring,
    Hands upon his bosom crossed,
    Wondering, worshipping, adoring,
    Knelt the Monk in rapture lost.
    Lord, he thought, in heaven that reignest,
    Who am I, that thus thou deignest
    To reveal thyself to me?
    Who am I, that from the centre
    Of thy glory thou shouldst enter
    This poor cell, my guest to be?

    Then amid his exaltation,
    Loud the convent bell appalling,
    From its belfry calling, calling,
    Rang through court and corridor
    With persistent iteration
    He had never heard before.
    It was now the appointed hour
    When alike in shine or shower,
    Winter's cold or summer's heat,
    To the convent portals came
    All the blind and halt and lame,
    All the beggars of the street,
    For their daily dole of food
    Dealt them by the brotherhood;
    And their almoner was he
    Who upon his bended knee,
    Rapt in silent ecstasy
    Of divinest self-surrender,
    Saw the Vision and the Splendor.

    Deep distress and hesitation
    Mingled with his adoration;
    Should he go, or should he stay?
    Should he leave the poor to wait
    Hungry at the convent gate,
    Till the Vision passed away?
    Should he slight his radiant guest,
    Slight this visitant celestial,
    For a crowd of ragged, bestial
    Beggars at the convent gate?
    Would the Vision there remain?
    Would the Vision come again?
    Then a voice within his breast
    Whispered, audible and clear
    As if to the outward ear:
    "Do thy duty; that is best;
    Leave unto thy Lord the rest!"

    Straightway to his feet he started,
    And with longing look intent
    On the Blessed Vision bent,
    Slowly from his cell departed,
    Slowly on his errand went.

    At the gate the poor were waiting,
    Looking through the iron grating,
    With that terror in the eye
    That is only seen in those
    Who amid their wants and woes
    Hear the sound of doors that close,
    And of feet that pass them by;
    Grown familiar with disfavor,
    Grown familiar with the savor
    Of the bread by which men die!
    But to-day, they knew not why,
    Like the gate of Paradise
    Seemed the convent sate to rise,
    Like a sacrament divine
    Seemed to them the bread and wine.
    In his heart the Monk was praying,
    Thinking of the homeless poor,
    What they suffer and endure;
    What we see not, what we see;
    And the inward voice was saying:
    "Whatsoever thing thou doest
    To the least of mine and lowest,
    That thou doest unto me!"

    Unto me! but had the Vision
    Come to him in beggar's clothing,
    Come a mendicant imploring,
    Would he then have knelt adoring,
    Or have listened with derision,
    And have turned away with loathing.

    Thus his conscience put the question,
    Full of troublesome suggestion,
    As at length, with hurried pace,
    Towards his cell he turned his face,
    And beheld the convent bright
    With a supernatural light,
    Like a luminous cloud expanding
    Over floor and wall and ceiling.

    But he paused with awe-struck feeling
    At the threshold of his door,
    For the Vision still was standing
    As he left it there before,
    When the convent bell appalling,
    From its belfry calling, calling,
    Summoned him to feed the poor.
    Through the long hour intervening
    It had waited his return,
    And he felt his bosom burn,
    Comprehending all the meaning,
    When the Blessed Vision said,
    "Hadst thou stayed, I must have fled!"


    All praised the Legend more or less;
    Some liked the moral, some the verse;
    Some thought it better, and some worse
    Than other legends of the past;
    Until, with ill-concealed distress
    At all their cavilling, at last
    The Theologian gravely said:
    "The Spanish proverb, then, is right;
    Consult your friends on what you do,
    And one will say that it is white,
    And others say that it is red."
    And "Amen!" quoth the Spanish Jew.

    "Six stories told!    We must have seven,
    A cluster like the Pleiades,
    And lo! it happens, as with these,
    That one is missing from our heaven.
    Where is the Landlord?    Bring him here;
    Let the Lost Pleiad reappear."

    Thus the Sicilian cried, and went
    Forthwith to seek his missing star,
    But did not find him in the bar,
    A place that landlords most frequent,
    Nor yet beside the kitchen fire,
    Nor up the stairs, nor in the hall;
    It was in vain to ask or call,
    There were no tidings of the Squire.

    So he came back with downcast head,
    Exclaiming: "Well, our bashful host
    Hath surely given up the ghost.
    Another proverb says the dead
    Can tell no tales; and that is true.
    It follows, then, that one of you
    Must tell a story in his stead.
    You must," he to the Student said,
    "Who know so many of the best,
    And tell them better than the rest."
    Straight by these flattering words beguiled,
    The Student, happy as a child
    When he is called a little man,
    Assumed the double task imposed,
    And without more ado unclosed
    His smiling lips, and thus began.


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