The Prior nodded his head mockingly.
“These young folk can teach us a lot about the way to worship God, Brother Birinus,” he commented.
Brother Birinus scowled.
“I broke three shares ploughing that bad bit of ground by the fir trees,” he announced gloomily. “I think I’ll drill in the oats to-morrow in the ten-acre. It’s no good ploughing deep,” he added reproachfully.
“Well, I believe in deep ploughing,” the Prior argued.
Mark realized that Brother Birinus had deliberately brought back the conversation to where it started in order to put an end to the discussion about St. Joseph. He was glad, because he himself was the only one of the brethren who had not yet been called upon to face the Prior’s contemptuous teasing. He wondered if he should have had the courage to speak up for St. Joseph’s Day. He should have found it difficult to oppose Brother George, whom he liked and revered. But in this case he was wrong, and perhaps he was also wrong to make the observation of St. Joseph’s Day a cudgel with which to belabour the brethren.
The following afternoon Mark had two casuals who he fancied might be useful to the Prior, and leaving the ward of the gate to Brother Nicholas he took them down with him through the coppice to where over the bleak March furrows Brother George was ploughing that rocky strip of bad land by the fir trees. The men were told to go and report themselves to Brother Birinus, who with Brother Dunstan to feed the drill was sowing oats a field or two away.
“I don’t think Brother Birinus will be sorry to let Brother Dunstan go back to his domestic duties,” the Prior commented sardonically.
Mark was turning to go back to his domestic duties when Brother George signed to him to stop.
“I suppose that like the rest of them you think I’ve no business to be a monk?” Brother George began.
Mark looked at him in surprise.
“I don’t believe that anybody thinks that,” he said; but even as he spoke he looked at the Prior and wondered why he had become a monk. He did not appear, standing there in breeches and gaiters, his shirt open at the neck, his hair tossing in the wind, his face and form of the soil like a figure in one of Fred Walker’s pictures, no, he certainly did not appear the kind of man who could be led away by Father Burrowes’ eloquence and persuasiveness into choosing the method of life he had chosen. Yes, now that the question had been put to him Mark wondered why Brother George was a monk.
“You too are astonished at me,” said the Prior. “Well, in a way I don’t blame you. You’ve only seen me on the land. This comes of letting myself be tempted by Horner’s offer to give us this land rent free if I would take it in hand. And after all,” he went on talking to the wide grey sky rather than to Mark, “the old monks were great tillers of the soil. It’s right that we should maintain the tradition. Besides, all those years in Malta I’ve dreamed just this. Brother Birinus and I have stewed on those sun-baked heights above Valetta and dreamed of this. What made you join our Order?” he asked abruptly.