He had returned to his chamber, and was reposing on the bed, when there entered one of the two monks by whom he was conveyed up the mountain. With happy face, this visitor presented to him a new volume, which, he declared with modest pride, was from beginning to end the work of his own hand.
‘But an hour ago I finished the binding,’ he added, stroking the calf-skin affectionately. ’And when I laid it before the venerable father, who is always indulgent to those who do their best, he was pleased to speak kind things. “Take it to our noble guest,” he said, “that he may see how we use the hours God grants us. And it may be that he would like to read therein."’
The book was a beautiful copy of Augustine’s De Civitate Dei. Basil did indeed peruse a page or two, but again his thoughts began to wander. He turned the leaves, looking with pleasure at the fine initial letters in red ink. They reminded him of his cousin Decius, whom a noble manuscript would transport with joy. And thought of Decius took him back to Surrentum. He fell into a dream.
On the morrow, at noon, he was well enough to descend to the refectory, where he had a seat at the abbot’s table. His meal consisted of a roast pigeon, a plate of vegetables, honey and grapes, with bread which seemed to him better than he had ever tasted, and wine whereof his still weak head bade him partake very modestly. The abbot’s dinner, he saw, was much simpler: a bowl of milk, a slice of bread, and a couple of figs. After the kindly greeting with which he was received, there was no conversation, for a monk read aloud during the repast. Basil surveyed with interest the assembly before him. Most of the faces glowed with health, and on all was manifest a simple contentment such as he had hitherto seen only in the eyes of children. Representatives were here of every social rank, but the majority belonged to honourable families: high intelligence marked many countenances, but not one showed the shadow of anxious or weary thought.
These are men, said Basil to himself, who either have never known the burden of life, or have utterly cast it off; they live without a care, without a passion. And then there suddenly flashed upon his mind what seemed an all-sufficient explanation of this calm, this happiness. Here entered no woman. Woman’s existence was forgotten, alike by young and old; or, if not forgotten, had lost all its earthly taint, as in the holy affection (of which Marcus had spoken to him) cherished by the abbot for his pious sister Scholastica. Here, he clearly saw, was the supreme triumph of the religious life. But, instead of quieting, the thought disturbed him. He went away thinking thoughts which he would fain have kept at a distance.
The ninth hour found him in the oratory, and later he attended vespers, at which office the monks sang an evening hymn of the holy Ambrosius:—
’O lux, beata Trinitas, et principalis Uuitas, Jam sol recedit igneus; infunde lumen cordibus.