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God's Troubadour, The Story of St. Francis of Assisi by  Sophie Jewett


 

 

Father and Son

FATHER AND SON

"O world as God has made it! all is beauty,

And knowing this is love, and love is duty,

What further may be asked for or declared?"

                            —Browning.

[65] TO Francis, the world seemed full of new and beautiful things to do. When he saw a poor little chapel by the roadside, he wanted to bring stones and build it up with his own hands. When he saw an old woman bending under a heavy load of faggots, or grass from the mountain, he wanted to take the burden upon his own shoulders. When he saw a hungry child, he wanted to give it his own dinner. Above all, it seemed to him that he must go everywhere and tell people to love and help each other, instead of fighting with swords and lances.

Piero Bernardone had been willing to [66] give his son money and clothes and horses, that the boy might be as gay as any of his young friends; but Piero did not like to have his money thrown away on all the poor folk of Assisi. Before many days, Francis found that he had not much of his own to give. He did have some beautiful pieces of silk and velvet and embroidery that his father had brought him from one of his long journeys. One day Francis took these out from the carved oak chest in which he kept his treasures. He spread them upon the floor and looked at them with the trained eye of a merchant's clerk. He knew exactly how much money they ought to bring. The next morning he rolled his merchandise into a parcel, bound it to his saddle, and rode away to Foligno, to the market-place, for it was the day of the fair. The square was thronged with people. Under gay booths in the centre, [67] all along the streets, against the palace walls, even on the steps of the cathedral, buyers and sellers were bargaining. Many were there who had seen Francis ride gallantly by, a few months before, on his way to the war. Now, they were astonished to see him, with simple clothes and gentle manner, offering his goods for sale. When all the gay stuffs were gone, Francis sold his horse also, and started back toward Assisi on foot, with a full purse at his side. Perhaps the horse he had just sold was the very one on which he had ridden so merrily over the same road with his soldier friends. However that may be, as Francis neared home and turned off from the high-road, to climb the stony foot-path that shortens the way, his heart was far happier than it had ever been before. He smiled to himself as he remembered how he had loved war; how his heart had delighted in banners and [68] bright armour and martial music. Now, he had no sword nor shield, not even a horse, and he was a most unsoldierly figure with his dusty feet and his plain clothes. On the hillside, he turned and looked down the road once more, wondering what had become of the knightly company who had gone to do battle in the far-off south. As he went on his way again he thought gladly, "My Captain is greater and braver than Walter of Brienne, though He was only the Carpenter of Nazareth. I can be a soldier still!"

The time came quickly when Francis needed more than a soldier's courage. His father and his brother were terribly angry with him, because, they said, he was making himself and the family ridiculous. Piero Bernardone had always been a hard man, and now, in his wrath and disappointment, he was cruel. The poor mother tried [69] to make peace, but Piero only became as angry with her as with his son.

At one time Francis hid himself for days in the little chapel of San Damiano, outside the city, where he had found a friend in the poor priest. Piero sought for him in fury, but did not find him. Francis could not long endure to be in hiding, like a coward, and he determined to go home to his father, and to explain that he must live the life that he knew to be right. By this time all Assisi had heard of the trouble between father and son, and there were many people who thought Francis a madman. Before he reached his father's door the idlers and children were shouting about him, making so much noise that Piero burst into the street, to know what was happening. When he saw Francis he was wild with anger. He would not listen to a word, but fell upon the youth like a savage. The crowd stood [70] back in horror, and the father with cruel blows and crueller curses dragged his son away and, thrusting him, half strangled, into a dark room, locked the door.

How long Francis was kept a prisoner we do not know. At last his father was obliged to go away on a journey, and Lady Pica, who saw that all her efforts to soften her husband's heart were fruitless, unlocked the door and set her son at liberty.

All Piero's fatherly love had turned to bitter hatred. When he came home, he went to the rulers of the city and demanded that Francis should be banished from Assisi. Then Francis appealed for protection to the bishop, to whom he told the whole sad story. He told him of his past life and of the life he now wished to lead; he told him of his father's anger and of his mother's grief.

One day, in the little square in front of [71] the bishop's palace, there was a strange scene. Before a crowd of men and women and children, who wondered at the change in the boy they had always known, and who wondered still more at the fierce anger of the father, Francis stripped off the clothes he wore and laid them, with the little money that he had left, at the bishop's feet. Then he spoke, and his voice rang clear and sweet, with no touch of fear nor of anger: "Listen, all of you, and understand. Until this time I have called Piero Bernardone my father, but now I must serve God. Therefore I give back to my earthly father all my money and my clothing, everything that I have had from him, and from this time forth I shall say only: 'Our Father who art in Heaven.' " The crowd of neighbours and friends stood silent and astonished to see the merchant greedily seize the money and the garments and go away without one [72] look of pity for his son. Then Bishop Guido, with his own cloak, covered the lad, who stood trembling, partly with cold and partly with grief. We must remember that Francis had a loving, gentle spirit and longed to be at peace with his father; but, as he had said himself, he was Christ's soldier, and a soldier has no choice but to obey. In his heart he seemed to hear quite plainly his Captain's order: "My soldier, Francis, you must be poor, not rich; you must not wear soft clothing nor feast at princes' tables; but you must go through city streets and country lanes, and take care of my sick folk and my poor."


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