The Book of Saints and Friendly Beasts, Chapter 10
The Ballad of Saint Felix
IT was in sunny Italy Where skies are blue and fair, Where little birds sing all the day, And flowers scent the air.
But sorrow was through all the land, And bloody deeds, and strife, For the cruel heathen Emperor Was slaying Christian life.
And Nola of Campania Was full of soldiers grim, Who sought where good Saint Felix dwelt, To be the death of him.
For he, the Bishop, old and wise, Was famous far and near, And to the troubled Christian folk His name was passing dear.
Saint Felix would not run away, But thought no shame to hide Until the bloody storm passed o'er, And he might safely bide.
And so he doffed his Bishop's robe, And donned a Pilgrim's dress, With hat and staff and sandal-shoon, So none his name would guess.
Now as Saint Felix, bent and gray, Was tottering down the street, A band of soldiers, fierce and wild, The old man chanced to meet.
"Ho! Pilgrim," cried the Captain stern, Who stopped him with his sword, "Answer me truly, or thy life Shall pay the lying word.
"We sought for Felix at his home, We find him not, alas! Say, hast thou met him, for within The hour he did pass?
"Say, hast thou met him? Tell us true, Or thou shalt lose thy head." Saint Felix looked him in the eyes, "I met him not," he said.
So then the soldiers let him pass,-- But he had spoken truth,-- And hurried forward on their search, A fruitless quest, in sooth!
And good Saint Felix hastened too, As quickly as he might, For they would guess full soon, he knew, How he had tricked their sight.
And truly, ere his oaken staff Had helped his feeble feet To win a mile, he heard their shouts A-nearing down the street.
He heard the clashing of their swords, Their voices' cruel roar, Alack! the chase was almost done, For he could speed no more.
All breathless, worn, and clean forspent He looked about him there; He spied a tiny ray of hope, And made a little prayer.
There was a broken, ruined wall That crumbled by the road, And through a cleft Saint Felix crept, And in a corner bode.
It was a sorry hiding-place, That scarce could hope to 'scape The keen sight of those bloody men, For murder all agape.
But lo! in answer to his prayer Made in the Holy Name, To help Saint Felix in his need A little spider came.
And there across the narrow hole Through which Saint Felix fled, The spider spun a heavy web Out of her silken thread.
So fast she spun, so faithfully, That when the soldiers came To pause beside the ruined wall And shout the Bishop's name.
They found a silken curtain there Wherethrough they could not see; And "Ho!" they said, "he is not here, Look, look! it cannot be;
"No one has passed this spider's web For many and many a day, See, men, how it is thick and strong;" And so they went away.
And this is how Saint Felix fared To 'scape the threatened doom, Saved by a little spider's web, Spun from her wondrous loom.
For when the soldiers all had passed It luckily befell, Among the ruins of the walls He found a half-dug well.
And there he hid for many months, Safe from the eager eyes Of all those cruel soldier-men And money-seeking spies.
And on the eve when this thing happed, It chanced a Christian dame Was passing by the ruined wall Calling her Bishop's name.
For well she knew he must be hid, And came to bring him food; And so he answered from the well, Saint Felix, old and good.
And for the many weary months She came there, day by day, All stealthily to bring him bread, So no one guessed the way.
And when at last the peace was made, Saint Felix left his well. What welcome of his folk he had There are no words to tell!