“It saves my better one on a bad day,” she sighed; “but I suppose the father must have something.”
And accordingly she took it to the monk, saying, “It’s not so good as it has been, but there’s warmth in it yet, and it cost a pretty penny when new.”
“And is this all that you can spare to the poor houseless strangers?” asked the monk.
“Aye, indeed, good father,” said she, “and that will cost me many a twinge of rheumatics. Folk at my age can’t lie cold at night for nothing.”
“These poor strangers,” said the monk, “are as aged as yourself, and have lost everything.”
But as all he said had no effect in moving the widow’s compassion, he departed, and knocked at the door of her neighbour. Here he told the same tale, which met with a very different hearing. This widow was one of those liberal souls whose possessions always make them feel uneasy unless they are being accepted, or used, or borrowed by some one else. She blessed herself that, thanks to the Baroness, she had a new blanket fit to lend to the king himself, and only desired to know with what else she could serve the poor strangers and requite the charities of the brotherhood.
The monk confessed that all the slender stock of household goods in the monastery was in use, and one after another he accepted the loan of almost everything the widow had. As she gave the things he put them out through the door, saying that he had a messenger outside; and having promised that all should be duly restored on the morrow, he departed, leaving the widow with little else than an old chair in which she was to pass the night.
When the monk had gone, the storm raged with greater fury than before, and at last one terrible flash of lightning struck the widows’ house, and though it did not hurt the old women, it set fire to the roof, and both cottages were soon ablaze. Now as the terrified old creatures hobbled out into the storm, they met the monk, who, crying, “Come to the monastery!” seized an arm of each, and hurried them up the hill. To such good purpose did he help them, that they seemed to fly, and arrived at the convent gate they hardly knew how.
Under a shed by the wall were the goods and chattels of the liberal widow.
“Take back thine own, daughter,” said the monk; “thy charity hath brought its own reward.”
“But the strangers, good father?” said the perplexed widow.
“Ye are the strangers,” answered the monk; “and what thy pity thought meet to be spared for the unfortunate, Heaven in thy misfortune hath spared to thee.”
Then turning to the other widow, he drew the old shawl from beneath his frock, and gave it to her, saying, “I give you joy, dame, that this hath escaped the flames. It is not so good as it has been; but there is warmth in it yet, and it cost a pretty penny when new.”
Full of confusion, the illiberal widow took back her shawl, murmuring, “Lack-a-day! If I had but known it was ourselves the good father meant!”