The monk gave a shrewd smile.
“Aye, aye, it would have been different, I doubt not,” said he; “but accept the lesson, my daughter, and when next thou art called upon to help the unfortunate, think that it is thine own needs that would be served; and it may be thou shalt judge better as to what thou canst spare.”
As he spoke, a flash of lightning lit up the ground where the monk stood, making a vast aureole about him in the darkness of the night. In the bright light, his countenance appeared stern and awful in its beauty, and when the flash was passed, the monk had vanished also.
Furthermore, when the widows sought shelter in the monastery, they found that the brotherhood knew nothing of their strange visitor.
There once lived a poor weaver, whose wife died a few years after their marriage. He was now alone in the world except for their child, who was a very quick and industrious little lad, and, moreover, of such an obliging disposition that he gained the nickname of Kind William.
On his seventh birthday his father gave him a little net with a long handle, and with this Kind William betook himself to a shallow part of the river to fish. After wandering on for some time, he found a quiet pool dammed in by stones, and here he dipped for the minnows that darted about in the clear brown water. At the first and second casts he caught nothing, but with the third he landed no less than twenty-one little fishes, and such minnows he had never seen, for as they leaped and struggled in the net they shone with alternate tints of green and gold.
He was gazing at them with wonder and delight, when a voice behind him cried, in piteous tones—
“Oh, my little sisters! Oh, my little sisters!”
Kind William turned round, and saw, sitting on a rock that stood out of the stream, a young girl weeping bitterly. She had a very pretty face, and abundant yellow hair of marvellous length, and of such uncommon brightness that even in the shade it shone like gold. She was dressed in grass green, and from her knees downwards she was hidden by the clumps of fern and rushes that grew by the stream.
“What ails you, my little lass?” said Kind William.
But the maid only wept more bitterly, and wringing her hands, repeated, “Oh, my little sisters! Oh, my little sisters!” presently adding in the same tone, “The little fishes! Oh, the little fishes!”
“Dry your eyes, and I will give you half of them,” said the good-natured child; “and if you have no net you shall fish with me this afternoon.”
But at this proposal the maid’s sobs redoubled, and she prayed and begged with frantic eagerness that he would throw the fish back into the river. For some time Kind William would not consent to throw away his prize, but at last he yielded to her excessive grief, and emptied the net into the pool, where the glittering fishes were soon lost to sight under the sand and pebbles.