They walked a short distance without further speech, then the prior stopped.
‘Many there are,’ he said, with a gesture indicating the world below, ‘who think that we flee the common life only for our souls’ salvation. So, indeed, it has been in former times, and God forbid that we should speak otherwise than with reverence of those who abandoned all and betook themselves to the desert that they might live in purity and holiness. But to us, by the grace bestowed upon our holy father, has another guidance been shown. Know, my son, that, in an evil time, we seek humbly to keep clear, not for ourselves only, but for all men, the paths of righteousness and of understanding. With heaven’s blessing we strive to preserve what else might utterly perish, to become not only guardians of God’s law but of man’s learning.’
Therewith did the prior take his leave, and Basil pondered much on what he had heard. It was a new light to him, for, as his instructor suspected, he shared the common view of coenobite aims, and still but imperfectly understood the law of Benedict. All at once the life of this cloister appeared before him in a wider and nobler aspect. In the silent monks bent over their desks he saw much more than piety and learning. They rose to a dignity surpassing that of consul or praefect. With their pens they warred against the powers of darkness, a grander conflict than any in which men drew sword. He wished he could talk of this with his cousin Decius, for Decius knew so much more than he, and could look so much deeper into the sense of things.
Days passed. Not yet did he receive a summons to the abbot’s tower. Rapidly recovering strength, he worked long in the fields, and scrupulously performed his penitential exercises. Only, when he had finished his daily reading of the appointed psalms, he turned to that which begins: ’Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord, that walketh in His ways.’ How could he err in dwelling upon the word of God? One day, as he closed the book, his heart was so full of a strange, half-hopeful, half-fearful longing, that it overflowed in tears; and amid his weeping came a memory of Marcian, a tender memory of the days of their friendship: for the first time he bewailed the dead man as one whom he had dearly loved.
Then there sounded a knock at the door of his cell. Commanding himself, and turning away so as to hide his face, he bade enter.
And, looking up, he beheld his servant Felix.
THE KING OF THE GOTHS
Transported from grief to joy, Basil sprang forward and clasped Felix in his arms.
‘God be thanked,’ he exclaimed, ’that I see you alive and well! Whence come you? What is your news?’