The Book of Saints and Friendly Beasts, Chapter 19
Saint Rigobert's Dinner
SAINT RIGOBERT was hungry. He had eaten nothing that morning, neither had little Pierre, his serving lad, who trotted along before him on the road to Rheims. They were going to visit Wibert, the Deputy-Governor of Rheims, to pay him some money which the Bishop owed,--all the money which he had in the world. And that is why they had nothing left to buy them a breakfast, and why little Pierre gazed into the bakers' shops so hungrily and licked his lips as they passed. Good Saint Rigobert did not see the windows of buns and tarts and pasties as they went along, for his eyes were bent upon the ground and he was singing hymns over to himself under his breath. Still, he too was very faint.
Saint Rigobert was poor. He was a good old Bishop; but the King of France did not love him, and had sent him away from the court and the big, rich city to live among the poor folk in the country. Saint Rigobert did not mind this very much, for he loved the pretty little village of Gernicour where he lived. He loved the people who dwelled there, too; and especially he loved Pierre, who had come to his home to be his little page and helper.
The people of the village meant to be kind and generous; but they were mostly stupid folk who saw only what was in front of their noses. And they did not guess how very poor their dear Bishop was. They were poor, too, and had to be careful of their little bits of money. But they all had vegetables and milk and eggs and butter, and if every one had helped a little, as they ought,--for he was always doing kind things for them,--Saint Rigobert would not have gone hungry so often.
It made the Bishop sorry to find them so careless, but he never complained. He would not tell them, nor beg them to help him, and often even little Pierre did not know how long he fasted. For he would give the boy all the supper and keep none himself. But he was always cheery and contented. He always had a kind word for the people as he passed them on the street. And when he went to the big town of Rheims near by he never complained to the Governor there about what a poor, miserable parish he lived in, or how little the people of Gernicour did for their Bishop. For he liked to believe that they did the best they could.
And that is why, when the two came into Wibert's hall, Saint Rigobert paid the money to the Governor without a word of his hunger or his faintness. And even when he saw the great table laid for dinner and the smoking dishes brought in by a procession of serving men, he turned away resolutely and tried not to show how tempting the good things looked and smelled. He gathered up the folds of his robe, and taking his Bishop's staff in his hand, rose to go back to Gernicour and his dinnerless house. But as they were leaving the hall, Pierre trailing out very reluctantly with many a backward look, Wibert the governor called them back. Perhaps he had seen the longing in the eyes of little Pierre as the great haunch of venison was set on the board. Perhaps he had noticed how pale and hollow Saint Rigobert's cheeks were, and half guessed the cause. At all events he said kindly:--
"I pray thee, stay and dine with us, thou and the boy yonder. See, the meat is ready, and there is room for many more at table."
But Saint Rigobert had a service to hold in the church at Gernicour, and knew they had barely time to reach home if they walked briskly. Besides, he was too proud to accept charity, and for the sake of his people he feared to let the Governor see how very hungry he was.
"Nay," he answered gently, "I thank thee for thy courtesy, friend Wibert. But we may not tarry. The time scants us for a dinner before the service in the church at Gernicour, and we must hasten or we be late. Come, lad, we must be stirring anon."
Tears of disappointment were standing in Pierre's eyes, he wanted so much to stay and have some of that good dinner. But he never thought of questioning his master's commands. The Governor pressed them to stay, but Rigobert was firm, and passed on to the door, Pierre following sulkily behind. But just as they reached the door there was a commotion outside, and the sound of quacking and men's laughter. And there came in a serving man bearing in his arms a great white goose, which was flapping his wings and cackling hoarsely in fright.
"Ho, what have we here?" said the Governor crossly. "Why do you let such a commotion into my hall, you fellow?"
"Please you, sir," answered the serving man as well as he could with the goose struggling in his arms, "this goose is a tribute from the widow Réné, and she begs your Honor to accept him as a poor present."
"A poor present indeed," said the Governor testily. "What do I want of the creature? We have more fowls now than we know what to do with. I wish him not." Then an idea came into his head, and he turned to Saint Rigobert. "Why, reverend sir," he said laughing, "since you will not stay to dine with me, I prithee take this fat fellow home with you, for dinner in Gernicour. 'T will be a good riddance for us, in sooth."
Saint Rigobert hesitated. But seeing the look of eagerness in Pierre's face he concluded to accept the gift, which was a common one enough in those days.
"Grammercy for your courtesy, Master Wibert," he answered. "We take your bounty of the fine goose, since it seemeth that your tables have space for little more. Now then, Pierre lad, take up thy prey. And look he bite thee not," he added as the boy made haste to seize the great struggling bird.
The goose pecked and squawked and flapped horribly while Pierre was getting his arms about him. But finally they were ready to start, Pierre going first with the goose who was nearly as big as himself, and the Bishop following grasping his staff, his eyes bent upon the ground.
Pierre's heart was full of joy. He chuckled and laughed and could hardly wait till they should reach home, for thinking of the fine dinner at the end of the road. But Saint Rigobert had already forgotten the goose, he had so many other things to think about. That is the way he had taught himself to forget how hungry he was--he just thought about something else. But all on a sudden Rigobert was startled by a great cackle and a scream in front of him down the road. He looked up just in time to see a big white thing sailing away into the sky, and Pierre hopping up and down in the road screaming and crying.
The Bishop overtook the little fellow quickly. "Lad, lad, hast thou lost thy goose?" he asked gently.
"Oh Father," sobbed the boy, "our nice dinner! Your dinner, master! The wicked goose has flown away. Oh, what a careless boy I am to let him 'scape me so!" And he sat down on a stone and cried as if his heart would break.
"Nay, nay," the good Bishop said, patting him on the head soothingly, "perhaps the poor goose did not want to be roasted, Pierre. Can you blame him for seeking his liberty instead? I find no fault with him; but I am sorry for thy dinner, lad. We must try to get something else. Cheer up, Pierre, let the white goose go. All will yet be well, lad."
He made Pierre get up, still crying bitterly, and on they trudged again along the dusty road. But this time there was no dinner for them to look forward to, and the way seemed very long. Pierre dragged his feet heavily, and it seemed as if he could not go another step with that emptiness in his stomach and the ache in his head. But again Saint Rigobert began to hum his hymns softly under his breath, keeping time to the beat of his aged feet on the dusty road. The loss of his dinner seemed to trouble him little. Perhaps he was secretly glad that the poor goose had escaped; for he was very tender-hearted and loved not to have creatures killed, even for food.
They had gone quite a little distance, and Rigobert began to sing louder and louder as they neared his church. When suddenly there came a strange sound in the air over his head. And then with a great fluttering a big white goose came circling down right before Saint Rigobert's feet. The good Saint stopped short in surprise, and Pierre, turning about, could hardly believe his eyes. But sure enough, there was the very same goose, looking up into Saint Rigobert's face and cackling as if trying to tell him something.
"I didn't mean to run away," he seemed to say. "I didn't know you were hungry, holy man, and that I was taking away your dinner. Sing on and I will follow you home."
Pierre turned and ran back to the goose and would have seized him by the neck so he could not get away again. But Saint Rigobert held up his finger warningly, and the boy stood still.
"Do not touch him, Pierre," said the Bishop earnestly. "I do not think he will run away. Let us see."
And sure enough, when they started on once more, Saint Rigobert still singing softly, Pierre, who kept glancing back, saw the goose waddling slowly at his master's heels. So the queer little procession came into Gernicour; and every one stopped along the streets with open mouths, wondering to see them pass. At last they reached the Bishop's house. And there Rigobert ceased his singing, and turning to the goose stroked his feathers gently and said:--
"Good friend, thou hast been faithful. Thou shalt be rewarded. Aye, ruffle up thy feathers, good goose, for they shall never be plucked from thee, nor shalt thou be cooked for food. Thou art my friend from to-day. No pen shall hold thee, but thou shalt follow me as thou wilt."
And the Saint kept his promise. For after that the goose lived with him in happiness and peace. They would take long walks together in the fields about Gernicour. They made visits to the sick and the sorrowful. Indeed, wherever Saint Rigobert went the goose followed close at his heels like a dog. Even when Rigobert went again to see the Governor of Rheims, the goose waddled all the way there and back along the crooked road over part of which he had gone that first time in little Pierre's arms. And how the Governor did laugh as he stood in his door and watched the strange pair disappear down the road.
"He could not have been very hungry after all," the Governor thought, "or I should never have seen that goose again." Which shows how little even a Governor knows about some things.
More than this, whenever Rigobert went to hold service in his little church the goose escorted him there also. But he knew better than to go inside. He would wait by the porch, preening his feathers in the sunshine and snapping bugs in the grass of the churchyard until his dear master came out. And then he would escort him back home again. He was a very well-mannered goose.
But dear me! All this time I have left poor little Pierre standing with a quivering chin outside the Bishop's door, hopeless of a dinner. But it all came right, just as the Bishop had said it would. I must tell you about that. For when Rigobert returned from church that same day feeling very faint and hungry indeed, after the long walk and the excitement of the goose-hap, Pierre came running out to meet him with a smiling face.
"Oh Father, Father!" he cried. "We are to have a dinner, after all. Come quick, I am so hungry I cannot wait! The village folk have heard about the pious goose who came back to be your dinner, and how you would not eat him. And so they have sent us a basket of good things instead. And they promise that never again so long as they have anything to eat themselves shall we be hungry any more. Oh Father! I am so glad we did not eat the goose."
And good Saint Rigobert laid his hand on Pierre's head and said, "Dear lad, you will never be sorry for showing kindness to a friendly bird or beast." Then the goose came quacking up to them and they all three went into the house together to eat their good, good dinner.