‘Come and sit by me, son Basil,’ said the abbot. ’I am at leisure, and shall be glad to hear you speak of many things. Tell me first, do you love reading?’
Basil answered with simple truth, that of late years he had scarce read at all, his inclination being rather to the active life.
’So I should have surmised. But chancing to look from my upper window not long after sunrise, I saw you walking with a book in your hand. What was it?’
Basil murmured that it was the Book of Psalms.
‘Look, then,’ said Benedict, ’at what lies before me. Here is a commentary on that book, written by the learned and pious Cassiodorus; written in the religious house which he himself has founded, upon the shore of “ship-wrecking Scylaceum,” as saith Virgilius. Not a week ago it came into my hands, a precious gift from the writer, and I have read much in it. On the last of his many journeys, travelling from Ravenna to the south, he climbed hither, and sojourned with us for certain days, and great was my solace in the communing we had together. Perchance you knew him in the world?’
Gladly Basil recounted his memories of the great counsellor. And the abbot listened with an attentive smile.
’I marvel not that you loved him. Reading in these pages, I am delighted by the graces of his mind, and taught by the sanctity of his spirit. At the very beginning, how sweetly does his voice sound. Listen. “Trusting in the Lord’s command, I knock at the doors of the heavenly mystery, that He may open to my understanding His flowery abodes, and that, permitted to enter the celestial garden, I may pluck spiritual fruit without the sin of the first man. Verily this book shines like a lamp; it is the salve of a wounded spirit, sweet as honey to the inner man. So much hath it of beauty for the senses, such healing in its balmy words, that to it may be applied the words of Solomon: ’A closed garden, and a fountain sealed, a paradise abounding in all fruits.’ For if Paradise be deemed desirable because it is watered by the delightful flow of four rivers, how much more blessed is the mind which is refreshed by the founts of one hundred and fifty psalms!"’
Basil scarce heeded the sense of the passage read to him. He could hear only the soft music of the aged voice, which lulled him into a calm full of faith and trust.
‘Is not this better,’ asked Benedict gently, whilst his eyes searched the young man’s countenance, ’than to live for the service of kings, and to utter worldly counsel?’
‘Better far, I cannot doubt,’ Basil replied with humility.
‘Utter the rest of your thought,’ said the abbot, smiling. ’You cannot doubt—and yet? Utter your mind to me, dear son.’
’My father, I obey you, desiring indeed with all my soul to seek your guidance. My heart has been too much in this world, and for one thought given to things eternal, I have bestowed a hundred upon my own sorrows, and on those of Italy.’