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SAINT WERBURGH AND HER GOOSE
AINT WERBURGH was a King's
daughter, a real princess, and very
beautiful. But unlike most princesses
of the fairy tales, she cared nothing at all
about princes or pretty cloches or jewels, of
about having a good time. Her only longing
was to do good and to make other people
happy, and to grow good and wise herself, so
that she could do this all the better. So she
studied and studied, worked and worked;
and she became a holy woman, an Abbess.
And while she was still very young and
beautiful, she was given charge of a whole
convent of nuns and school-girls not much
younger than herself, because she was so
much wiser and better than any one else in
all the countryside.
But though Saint Werburgh had grown
so famous and so powerful, she still remained
a simple, sweet girl. All the country people
loved her, for she was always eager to help
them, to cure the little sick children and to
 advise their
fathers and mothers. She never failed to answer the
questions which puzzled them, and so she set their poor
troubled minds at ease. She was so wise that she knew how to
make people do what she knew to be right, even when they
wanted to do wrong. And not only human folk but animals
felt the power of this young Saint. For she loved and was
kind to them also. She studied about them and grew to know
their queer habits and their animal way of thinking. And
she learned their language, too. Now when one loves a little
creature very much and understands it well, one can almost
always make it do what one wishes—that is, if one wishes
For some time Saint Werburgh had been interested in a flock
of wild geese which came every day to get their breakfast
in the convent meadow, and to have a morning bath in the
pond beneath the window of her cell. She grew to watch until
the big, long-necked gray things with their short tails and
clumsy feet settled with a harsh "Honk!" in the grass. Then
she loved to see the big ones waddle clumsily about in
search of dainties
 for the children, while the babies stood still, flapping
their wings and crying greedily till they were fed.
There was one goose which was her favorite. He was the
biggest of them all, fat and happy looking. He was the
leader and formed the point of the V in which a flock of
wild geese always flies. He was the first to alight in the
meadow, and it was he who chose the spot for their
breakfast. Saint Werburgh named him Grayking, and she grew
very fond of him, although they had never spoken to one
Master Hugh was the convent Steward, a big, surly fellow who
did not love birds nor animals except when they were served
up for him to eat. Hugh also had seen the geese in the
meadow. But, instead of thinking how nice and funny they
were, and how amusing it was to watch them eat the worms and
flop about in the water, he thought only, "What
a fine goose pie they would make! And especially he
looked at Grayking, the plumpest and most tempting of them
all, and smacked his lips. "Oh, how I wish I had you in my
frying-pan!" he said to himself.
 Now it happened that worms
were rather scarce in the convent meadow that spring. It
had been dry, and the worms had crawled away to moister
places. So Grayking and his followers found it hard to get
breakfast enough. One morning, Saint Werburgh looked in vain
for them in the usual spot. At first she was only surprised;
but as she waited and waited, and still they did not come,
she began to feel much alarmed.
Just as she was going down to her own dinner, the Steward,
Hugh, appeared before her cap in hand and bowing low. His
fat face was puffed and red with hurrying up the convent
hill, and he looked angry.
"What is it, Master Hugh?" asked Saint Werburgh in her
gentle voice. "Have you not money enough to buy to-morrow's
breakfast?" for it was his duty to pay the convent bills.
"Nay, Lady Abbess," he answered gruffly; it is not lack of
money that troubles me. It is abundance of geese."
"Geese! How? Why?" exclaimed Saint Werburgh, startled.
"What of geese, Master Hugh?"
 "This of geese, Lady Abbess," he replied. "A flock of
long-necked thieves have been in my new-planted field of
corn, and have stolen all that was to make my harvest." Saint
Werburgh bit her lips.
"What geese were they?" she faltered, though she guessed the
"Whence the rascals come, I know not," he answered, "but
this I know. They are the same which gather every morning in
the meadow yonder. I spied the leader, a fat, fine thief
with a black ring about his neck. It should be a noose,
indeed, for hanging. I would have them punished, Lady
"They shall be punished, Master Hugh," said Saint Werburgh
firmly, and she went sadly up the stair to her cell without
tasting so much as a bit of bread for her dinner. For she
was sorry to find her friends such naughty birds, and she
did not want to punish them, especially Grayking. But she
knew that she must do her duty.
When she had put on her cloak and hood she went out into the
courtyard behind the convent where there were pens for
keeping doves and chickens and little pigs. And
beside the largest of these pens Saint Werburgh made a
strange cry, like the voice of the geese themselves,—a cry
which seemed to say, "Come here, Grayking's geese, with
Grayking at the head!" And as she stood there waiting, the
sky grew black above her head with the shadowing of wings,
and the honking of the geese grew louder and nearer till
they circled and lighted in a flock at her feet.
She saw that they looked very plump and well-fed, and
Grayking was the fattest of the flock. All she did was to
look at them steadily and reproachfully; but they came
waddling bashfully up to her and stood in a line before her
with drooping heads. It seemed as if something made them
stay and listen to what she had to say, although they would
much rather fly away.
Then she talked to them gently and told them how bad they
were to steal corn and spoil the harvest. And as she talked
they grew to love her tender voice, even though it scolded
them. She cried bitterly as she took each one by the wings
and shook him for his sins and whipped him—-not too
se-  verely. Tears stood in the round eyes of the geese also, not
because she hurt them, for she had hardly ruffled their
thick feathers; but because they were sorry to have pained
the beautiful Saint. For they saw that she loved them, and
the more she punished them the better they loved her. Last
of all she punished Grayking. But when she had finished she
took him up in her arms and kissed him before putting him in
the pen with the other geese, where she meant to keep them
in prison for a day and a night. Then Grayking hung his
head, and in his heart he promised that neither he nor
his followers should ever again steal anything, no matter
how hungry they were. Now Saint Werburgh read the thought
in his heart and was glad, and she smiled as she turned
away. She was sorry to keep them in the cage, but she hoped
it might do them good. And she said to herself, "They shall
have at least one good breakfast of convent porridge before
Saint Werburgh trusted Hugh, the Steward, for she did not
yet know the wickedness of his heart. So she told him how
 punished the geese for robbing him, and how she was
sure they would never do so any more. Then she bade him see
that they had a breakfast of convent porridge the next
morning; and after that they should be set free to go where
Hugh was not satisfied. He thought the geese had not been
punished enough. And he went away grumbling, but not daring
to say anything cross to the Lady Abbess who was the King's
AINT WERBURGH was busy all the rest of that day and early
the next morning too, so she could not get out again to see
the prisoned geese. But when she went to her cell for the
morning rest after her work was done, she sat down by the
window and looked out smilingly, thinking to see her friend
Grayking and the others taking their bath in the meadow. But
there were no geese to be seen! Werburgh's face grew grave.
And even as she sat there wondering what had happened, she
pro-  digious honking overhead, and a flock of geese came
straggling down, not in the usual trim V, but all unevenly
and without a leader. Grayking was gone!
They fluttered about crying and asking advice of one
another, till they heard Saint Werburgh's voice calling them
anxiously. Then with a cry of joy they flew straight up to
her window and began talking all together, trying to tell
her what had happened.
"Grayking is gone!" they said. "Grayking is stolen by the
wicked Steward. Grayking was taken away when we were set
free, and we shall never see him again. What shall we do,
dear lady, without our leader?"
Saint Werburgh was horrified to think that her dear Grayking
might be in danger. Oh, how that wicked Steward had
deceived her! She began to feel angry. Then she turned to
the birds: "Dear geese;" she said earnestly, "you have
promised me never to steal again, have you not?" and they
all honked "Yes!" "Then I will go and question the
Steward," she continued, "and if he is guilty I will punish
him and make him bring Grayking back to you."
 The geese flew
away feeling somewhat comforted, and Saint Werburgh sent
speedily for Master Hugh. He came, looking much surprised,
for he could not imagine what she wanted of him. "Where
is the gray goose with the black ring about his neck?"
began Saint Werburgh without any preface, looking at him
keenly. He stammered and grew confused. "I—I don't
know, Lady Abbess," he faltered. He had not guessed that she
cared especially about the geese.
"Nay, you know well," said Saint Werburgh, "for I bade you
feed them and set them free this morning. But one is gone."
"A fox must have stolen it," said he guiltily.
"Ay, a fox with black hair and a red, fat face," quoth Saint
Werburgh sternly. "Do not tell me lies. You have taken
him, Master Hugh. I can read it in your heart." Then he
grew weak and confessed.
"Ay, I have taken the great gray goose," he said faintly.
"Was it so very wrong?"
"He was a friend of mine and I
love him dearly," said Saint Werburgh. At these words the
Steward turned very pale indeed.
"I did not know," he gasped.
 "Go and bring him to me, then," commanded the Saint, and
pointed to the door. Master Hugh slunk out looking very sick
and miserable and horribly frightened. For the truth was
that he had been tempted by Grayking's fatness. He had
carried the goose home and made him into a hot, juicy pie
which he had eaten for that very morning's breakfast. So how
could he bring the bird back to Saint Werburgh, no matter
how sternly she commanded?
All day long he hid in the woods, not daring to let
himself be seen by any one. For Saint Werburgh was a King's
daughter; and if the King should learn what he had done to
the pet of the Lady Abbess, he might have Hugh himself
punished by being baked into a pie for the King's hounds to
But at night he could bear it no longer. He heard the voice
of Saint Werburgh calling his name very softly from the
convent, "Master Hugh, Master Hugh, come, bring me my
goose!" And just as the geese could not help coming when
she called them, so he felt that he must go, whether he
would or no. He went into his pantry and took down
remains of the great pie. He gathered up the bones of
poor Grayking in a little basket, and with chattering teeth
and shaking limbs stole up to the convent and knocked at the
Saint Werburgh was waiting for him. "I knew you would
come," she said. "Have you brought my goose?" Then silently
and with trembling hands he took out the bones one by one
and laid them on the ground before Saint Werburgh. So he
stood with bowed head and knocking knees waiting to hear her
pronounce his punishment.
"Oh, you wicked man!" she said sadly. "You have killed my
beautiful Grayking, who never did harm to any one except to
steal a little corn."
"I did not know you loved him, Lady," faltered the man in
"You ought to have known it," she returned; "you ought to
have loved him yourself."
"I did, Lady Abbess," confessed the man. "That was the
trouble. I loved him too well—in a pie."
"Oh, selfish, gluttonous man!" she
ex-  claimed in disgust. "Can you not see the beauty of a dear
little live creature till it is dead and fit only for your
table? I shall have you taught better. Henceforth you shall
be made to study the lives and ways of all things which live
about the convent; and never again, for punishment, shall
you eat flesh of
any bird or beast. We will see if you cannot be taught
to love them when they have ceased to mean Pie. Moreover,
you shall be confined for two days and two nights in the
pen where I kept the geese. And porridge shall be your only
food the while. Go, Master Hugh."
So the wicked Steward was punished. But he learned his
lesson; and after a little while he grew to love the birds
almost as well as Saint Werburgh herself.
But she had not yet finished with Grayking. After Master
Hugh had gone she bent over the pitiful little pile of bones
which was all that was left of that unlucky pie. A tear fell
upon them from her beautiful eyes; and kneeling down she
touched them with her white fingers, speaking softly the
name of the bird whom she had loved.
 "Grayking, arise," she
said. And hardly had the words left her mouth when a strange
thing happened. The bones stirred, lifted themselves, and in
a moment a glad "Honk!" sounded in the air, and Grayking
himself, black ring and all, stood ruffling his feathers
before her. She clasped him in her arms and kissed him again
and again. Then calling the rest of the flock by her strange
power, she showed them their lost leader restored as good as
What a happy flock of geese flew honking away in an even V,
with the handsomest, grayest, plumpest goose in all the
world at their head! And what an exciting story he had to
tell his mates! Surely, no other goose ever lived who could
tell how it felt to be made into pie, to be eaten and to
have his bones picked clean by a greedy Steward.
SAINT WERBURGH AND HER GOOSE
This is how Saint Werburgh made lifelong friendship with a
flock of big gray geese. And I dare say even now in England
one of their descendants may be found with a black ring
around his neck, the handsomest, grayest, plumpest goose in
all the world. And when he hears the name of Saint Werburgh,
 which has been handed down to him from grandfather to
grandson for twelve hundred years, he will give an
especially loud "Honk!" of praise.
 Dear Saint Werburgh! One
would almost be willing to make a goose of himself if so he
might see her again, with all her feathered friends about