The little green lizard on Solomon's wall
Basked in the gold of a shimmering noon,
Heard the insistent, imperious call
Of hautboy and tabor and loud basson,
When Balkis passed by, with her alien grace,
And the light of wonder upon her face,
To sit by the King in his lofty hall,—
And the little green lizard saw it all.
The little green lizard on Solomon's wall
Waited for flies the long day through,
While the craftsman came at the monarch's call,
To the task that was given each man to do,
And the Temple rose with its cunning wrought gold,
Cedar and silver, and all it could hold
In treasure of tapestry, silk and shawl—
And the little green lizard observed it all.
The little green lizard on Solomon's wall
Heard what the King said to one alone,
Secrets that only the Djinns may recall,
Graved on the Sacred, Ineffable Stone.
And yet, when the little green lizard was led
To speak of the King, when the King was dead,
He had only kept count of the flies on the wall,—
For he was but a lizard, after all!
BASIL THE SCRIBE
HOW AN IRISH MONK IN AN ENGLISH ABBEY CAME TO STAND BEFORE KINGS
ROTHER BASIL, of the scriptorium, was doing two things at once with the same brain.
He did not know whether any of the other monks ever indulged in this or
not. None of them showed any signs of it.
The Abbot was clearly intent, soul, brain and body, on the ruling of the
community. In such a house as this dozens of widely varied industries must
be carried on, much time spent in prayer, song and meditation, and strict attention
given to keeping in every detail the traditional Benedictine rule. In many
medieval Abbeys not all these things were done. Rumor hinted that one Order
was too fond of ease, and another of increasing its estates. In the Irish Abbey
where Brother Basil had received his first education, little thought was given
to anything but religion; the fare was of the rudest and simplest kind. But in
this English Abbey everything in the way of clothing, tools, furniture, meat and
drink which could be produced on the lands was produced there.
Guests of high rank were often entertained. The church, not yet
complete, was planned on a magnificent scale. The work of making
of books had grown into something
 like a large publishing business. As the parchments for the writing, the
leather for the covers, the goose-quill pens, the metal clasps, the ink, and
the colors for illuminated lettering, were all made on the premises, a great
deal of skilled labor was involved. Besides the revenues from the sale of
manuscript volumes the Abbey sold increasing quantities of wool each year.
Under some Abbots this material wealth might have led to luxury. But
Benedict of Winchester held that a man who took the vows of religion
should keep them.
With this Brother Basil entirely agreed. He desired above all to give his
life to the service of God and the glory of his Order. He was a skillful,
accurate and rapid penman. Manuscripts copied by him, or under his
direction, had no mistakes or slovenly carelessness about them. The
pens which he cut were works of art. The ink was from a rule for which
he had made many experiments. Every book was carefully and strongly
bound. Brother Basil, in short, was an artist, and though the work might
be mechanical, he could not endure not to have it beautifully done.
The Abbot was quite aware of this, and made use of the young monk's
talent for perfection by putting him in charge of the scriptorium. In the
twelfth century the monks were almost the only persons who had leisure
for bookmaking. They wrote and translated many histories; they copied
the books which made up their own libraries, borrowed books wherever
they could and copied those, over and over again. They sold their work
to kings, noblemen, and scholars, and to other religious houses. The need
for books was so great that in the scriptorium of which Brother Basil had
charge, very little time was spent on illumination. Missals,
chron-  icles and books of hymns fancifully decorated in color were done only when
there was a demand for them. They were costly in time, labor and material.
Brother Basil could copy a manuscript with his right hand and one half his
brain, while the other half dreamed of things far afield. He could not remain
blind to the grace of a bird's wing on its flight southward in spring, to the
delicate seeking tendrils of grapevines, the starry beauty of daisies or the
tracery of arched leafless boughs. Within his mind he could follow the gracious
curves of the noble Norman choir, and he had visions of color more lustrous
than a sunrise.
Day by day, year by year, the sheep nibbled the tender springing grass. Yet
the green sward continued to be decked with orfrey-work of many
hues—buttercups, violets, rose-campion, speedwell,
daisies—defiant little bright heads not three inches from the roots.
His fancies would come up in spite of everything, like the flowers.
But would it always be so? Was he to spend his life in copying these
bulky volumes of theology and history—the same old phrases,
the same authors, the same seat by the same window? And some day,
would he find that his dreams had vanished forever? Might he not grow
to be like Brother Peter, who had kept the porter's lodge for forty years
and hated to see a new face? This was the doubt in the back of his mind,
and it was very sobering indeed.
Years ago, when he was a boy, he had read the old stories of the
missionary monks of Scotland and Ireland. These men carried the message
of the Cross to savage tribes, they stood before Kings, they wrought wonders.
Was there no more need for such work as theirs? Even now there was fierce
 misrule in Ireland. Even now the dispute between church and state had
resulted in the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury on the steps of the
altar. The Abbeys of all England had hummed like bee-hives when that
Brother Basil discovered just then that the ink was failing, and went to see
how the new supply was coming on. It was a tedious task to make new ink,
but when made it lasted. Wood of thorn-trees must be cut in April or May
before the leaves or flowers were out, and the bundles of twigs dried for
two, three or four weeks. Then they were beaten with wooden mallets
upon hard wooden tablets to remove the bark, which was put in a barrel
of water and left to stand for eight days. The water was then put in a
cauldron and boiled with some of the bark, to boil out what sap remained.
When it was boiled down to about a third of the original measure it was put
into another kettle and cooked until black and thick, and reduced again to a
third of its bulk. Then a little pure wine was added and it was further cooked
until a sort of scum showed itself, when the pot was removed from the fire
and placed in the sun until the black ink purified itself of the dregs. The pure
ink was then poured into bags of parchment carefully sewn and hung in the
sunlight until dry, when it could be kept for any length of time till wanted. To
write, one moistened the ink with a little wine and vitriol.
As all the colors for illumination must be made by similar tedious processes,
it can be seen that unless there was a demand for such work it would not be
thrifty to do it.
Brother Basil arrived just in time to caution the lay brother, Simon
Gastard, against undue haste. Gastard was a clever fellow, but he
needed watching. He was too apt to think
 that a little slackness here and there was good for profits. Brother Basil
stood over him until the ink was quite up to the standard of the Abbey.
But his mind meanwhile ran on the petty squabblings and dry records of the
chronicle that he had just been copying. How, after all, was he better than
Gastard? He was giving the market what it wanated—and the book was
not worth reading. If men were to write chronicles, why not make them vivid
as legends, true, stirring, magnificent stories of the men who moved the world?
Who would care, in a thousand years, what rent was paid by the tenant farmers
of the Abbey, or who received a certain benefice from the King?
As he turned from the sunlit court where the ink was a-making, he
received a summons to the Abbot's own parlor. He found that dignitary
occupied with a stout and consequential monk of perhaps forty-five, who
was looking bewildered, snubbed and indignant. Brother Ambrosius was
most unaccustomed to admonitions, even of the mildest. He had a wide
reputation as a writer, and was indeed the author of the very volume which
Brother Basil was now copying. He seemed to know by instinct what would
please the buyers of chronicles, and especially what was to be left out.
It was also most unusual to see the Abbot thoroughly aroused. He had a
cool, indiferent manner, which made his rebukes more cutting. Now he
was in wrathful earnest.
"Ambrosius," he thundered, "there are some of us who will live to see
Thomas of Canterbury a Saint of the Church. But that is no reason why
we should gabble about it beforehand. You have been thinking yourself
a writer, have you? Your place here has been allowed you because
 a rule—cautious even to timidity. Silence is always safe, and an indiscreet
pen is ruinous. The children of the brain travel far, and they must not discuss
'SOME OF US WILL LIVE TO SEE THOMAS OF CANTERBURY A SAINT OF THE CHURCH.'
"Shall we write then of the doings of hinds and swinkers?" asked the historian,
pursing his heavy mouth. "It seems we cannot write of Kings and of Saints."
"You may write anything in reason of Kings and of Saints—when they are
dead," the Abbot retorted. "But if you cannot avoid treasonable criticism of
your King, I will find another historian. Go now to your penance."
And Brother Ambrosius, not venturing a reply, slunk out.
In the last three minutes Brother Basil had seen far beneath the surface of things.
His deep-set blue eyes flamed. The dullness of the chronicle was not always
the dullness of the author, it seemed. The King showed at best none too much
respect for the Church, and his courtiers had dared the murder of Becket.
Surely the Abbot was right.
"Basil," his superior observed grimly, "in a world full of fools it would be strange
if some were not found here. It is the business of the Church to make all men alike
useful to God. Because the murder of an Archbishop has set all Christendom
a-buzz, we must be the zealous to give no just cause of offence. I do not believe
that Henry is guilty of that murder, but if he were, he would not shrink from other
crimes. In the one case we have no reason to condemn him; in the other,
we must be silent or court our own destruction. There are other ways of keeping
alive the memory of Thomas of Canterbury besides foolish accusations in
black and white. There may be pictures, which the people will see, ballads
 which they will hear and repeat—the very towers of the Cathedral will be
"I have sent for you now because there is work for you to do elsewhere.
The road from Paris to Byzantium may soon be blocked. The Emperor
of Germany is at open war with the Pope. Turks are attacking pilgrims in
the Holy Land. Soon it may be impossible, even for a monk, to make the
journey safely. The time to go is now."
"You will set forth within a fortnight, and go to Rouen, Paris and Limoges;
thence to Rome, Byzantium and Alexandria. I will give you memoranda of
certain manuscripts which you are to secure if possible, either by purchase
or by securing permission to make copies. Get as many more as you can.
The King is coming here to-night in company with the Archbishop of York,
the Chancellor, a Prince of Ireland, and others. He may buy or order some
works on the ancient law. He desires also to found an Abbey in Ireland, to be
a cell of this house. I have selected Cuthbert of Oxenford to take charge of
the work, and he will set out immediately with twelve brethren to make the
foundation. When you return from your journey it will doubtless be well under
way. You will begin there the training of scribes, artists, metal workers and
other craftsmen. It is true that you know little of any work except that of the
scriptorium, but one can learn to know men there as well as anywhere. You
will observe what is done in France, Lombardy and Byzantium. The men to
whom you will have letters will make you acquainted with young craftsmen who
may be induced to go to Ireland to work, and teach their work to others. Little
can be done toward establishing a school until Ireland is more
 quiet, but in this the King believes that we shall be of some assistance.
I desire you to be present at our confernece, to make notes as you are directed,
and to say nothing, for the present, of these matters. Ambrosius may think
that you are to have his place, and that will be very well."
The Abbot concluded with a rather ominous little smile. Brother Basil went
back to the scriptorium, his head in a whirl. Within a twelvemonth he would
see the mosaics of Saint Mark's in Venice, the glorious windows of the French
cathedrals, the dome of Saint Sophia, the wonders of the Holy Land. He was no
longer part of a machine. Indeed, he must always have been more than that, or
the Abbot would not have chosen him for this work. He felt very humble and
He knew that he must study architecture above anything else, for the building
done by the monks was for centuries to come. Each brother of the Order
gathered wisdom for all. When a monk of distinguised ability learned how to
strengthen an arch here or carve a doorway there, his work was seen and
studied by others from a hundred towns and cities. Living day by day with
their work, the builders detected weaknesses and proved step by step all
that they did. Cuthbert of Oxenford was a sure and careful mason, but that
was all. The beauty of the building would have to be created by another man.
Glass-work, goldsmith work, mosaics, vestments and books might be brought
from abroad, but the stone-work must be done with materials near at hand and
such labor as could be had. Brother Basil received letters not only to Abbots
and Bishops, but to Gerard the wood-carver of Amiens, Matteo the Florentine
artist, Tomaso the
 physician of Padua, Angelo the glass-maker. He set all in order in the scriptorium
where he had toiled for five long years. Then, having been diligent in business,
he went to stand before the King.
Many churchmen pictured this Plantagenet with horns and a cloven foot,
and muttered references to the old fairy tale about a certain ancestor of
the family who married a witch. But Brother Basil was familiar with the
records of history. He knew the fierce Norman blood of the race, and
knew also the long struggle between Matilda, this King's mother, and
Stephen. Here, in the plainly furnished room of the Abbot, was a
hawk-nosed man with gray eyes and a stout restless figure, broad
coarse hands, and slightly bowed legs, as if he spent most of his days
in the saddle. The others, churchmen and courtiers, looked far more
like royalty. Yet Henry's realm took in all England, a part of Ireland, and
half of what is now France. He was the only real rival to the German
Emperor who had defied and driven into exile the Pope of Rome. If Henry
were of a like mind with Frederick Barbarossa it would be a sorry day indeed
for the Church. If he were disposed to contend with Barbarossa for the
supreme power over Europe, the land would be worn out with wars. What
would he do? Brother Basil watched the debating group and tried to make
up his mind.
He wrote now and then a paragraph at the Abbot's command. It seemed
that the King claimed certain taxes and service from the churchmen who
held estates under him, precisely as from the feudal nobles. The Abbots and
Bishops, while claiming protection of English law for their property, claimed
also that they owed no obedience to the King,
 but only to their spiritual master. Argument after argument was advanced by
their trained minds.
But it was not for amusement that Henry II., after a day with some hunting
Abbot, falcon on fist, read busily in books of law. Brother Basil began to
see that the King was defining, little by little, a code of England based on the
old Roman law and customs handed down from the primitive British village.
Would he at last obey the Church, or not?
Suddenly the monarch halted in his pacing of the room, turned and faced
the group. The lightning of his eye flashed from one to another, and all
drew back a little except the Abbot, who listened with the little grim smile
that the monks knew.
"I tell ye," said Henry, bringing his hard fist down upon the oaken table, "Pope
or no Pope, Emperor or no Emperor, I will be King of England, and this land
shall be fief to no King upon earth. I will have neither two masters to my dogs,
nor two laws to my realm. Hear ye that, my lords and councilors?"