As he listened, Basil’s eyes filled with tears, and when bidden to rise he felt as one who has thrown off a burden; rejoicing in his recovered strength of body and soul, he gazed into that venerable face with gratitude too great for words.
‘Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth.’ It was with a parent’s tenderness that Benedict now spoke. ’I am old, O Basil, and have but a few more steps to take upon this earth. Looking upon me, you see long promise of life before you. And yet—’
The soft accents were suspended. For a moment Benedict gazed as though into the future; then, with a wave of his hand, passed to another thought.
’To-morrow you will join with us in the Holy Communion. You will pass the day in sober joy among the brethren, not one of whom but shares your gladness and desires your welfare. And at sunrise on the day after, you will go forth from our gates. Whether to return, I know not; be that with the Ruler of All. If again you climb this mount, I shall not be here to bid you welcome. Pray humbly, even as I do, that we may meet in the life eternal.’
After Mass on the morrow, when he had joyfully partaken of the Eucharist, Basil was bidden to the priest’s room. This time it was the prior himself who received him, and with an address which indicated the change in the position of the penitent, now become an ordinary guest.
’Lord Basil, your follower, Deodatus, is minded to fulfil the prophecy of his name, and tells me that it would be with your good will. Are you content to deprive yourself of his service, that he may continue to abide with us, and after due preparation, take the vows of our community?’
‘Content,’ was the reply, ’and more than content. If ever man seemed born for the holy life, it is he. I entreat you, reverend father, to favour his desire.’
’Be it so. I have spoken of this matter with the lord abbot, who has graciously given his consent. Let me now make known to you that, at sunrise to-morrow, your attendants who have been sojourning at Casinum, will await you by the gate of the monastery. I wish you, dear lord, a fair journey. Let your thoughts sometimes turn to us; by us you will ever be remembered.’
Long before the morrow’s sunrise, Basil was stirring. By the light of his little lamp, he and Deodatus conversed together, no longer as master and servant, but as loving friends, until the bell called them to matins. The night was chill; under a glistening moon all the valley land was seen to be deep covered with far-spreading mist, whereamid the mount of the monastery and the dark summits round about rose like islands in a still, white sea. When matins and lauds were over, many of the monks embraced and tenderly took leave of the departing guest. The last to do so was Marcus, who led him aside and whispered:
’I see you have again put on your ring, as was right. Let me, I beg of you, once more touch it with my lips.’