‘My man, Deodatus, had not spoken?’ asked Basil.
’Concerning you, not a word. I did not permit him to be questioned, and his talk has been only of his own sins.’
Basil wondered at this discretion in a simple rustic; yet, on a second thought, found it consistent with the character of Deodatus, as lately revealed to him.
‘He has been long your faithful attendant?’ inquired the abbot.
’Not so. Only by chance was he chosen from my horsemen to accompany me hither. My own servant, Felix, being wounded, lay behind at Aesernia.’
‘If he be as honest and God-fearing as this man,’ said Benedict, ’whose name, indeed, seems well to become him, then are you fortunate in those who tend upon you. But of this and other such things we will converse hereafter. Listen now, son Basil, to my bidding. You have abstained from the Table of the Lord, and it is well. Today, and every day until I again summon you, you will read aloud in privacy the Seven Penitential Psalms, slowly and with meditation; and may they grave themselves in your heart, to remain there, a purification and a hope, whilst you live.’
Basil bowed his head, and whispered obedience.
’Moreover, so far as your strength will suffer it, you shall go daily into the garden or the field, and there work with the brethren. Alike for soul and for body it is good to labour under God’s sky, and above all to till God’s earth and make it fruitful. For though upon Adam, in whom we all died, was laid as a punishment that he should eat only that which he had planted in the sweat of his brow, yet mark, O Basil, that the Creator inflicts no earthly punishment which does not in the end bear fruit of healing and of gladness. What perfume is so sweet as that of the new-turned soil? And what so profitable to health? When the Romans of old time began to fall from virtue—such virtue as was permitted to those who knew not God—the first sign of their evil state was the forgotten plough. And never again can Italy be blessed—if it he the will of the Almighty that peace be granted her—until valley and mountain side and many-watered plain are rich with her children’s labour. I do not bid you live in silence, for silence is not always a good counsellor; but refrain from merely idle speech, and strive, O Basil, strive with all the force that is in you, that your thoughts be turned upward. Go now, my son. It shall not be long before I again call you to my tower.’
So, with a look of kindness which did not soften to a smile, Benedict dismissed his penitent. When the door had closed, he sat for a few minutes with head bent, then roused himself, glanced at the clepsydra which stood in a corner of the room, and turned a page or two of the volume lying before him. Presently his attention was caught by the sound of fluttering wings; on the window sill had again alighted the two doves, and again they seemed to regard him curiously. The aged face brightened with tenderness.