| Gabriel and the Hour Book|
|by Evaleen Stein|
|Relates the story of the making of an hour book as a wedding gift from King Louis of France to Lady Anne of Brittany and the good fortune it brought to little Gabriel, Brother Stephen's color grinder. Ages 8-10 |
GABRIEL INTERVIEWS THE ABBOT
HE next day of Gabriel's service passed off much the same
as the first, and so it went for almost a week; but the
boy saw day by day that Brother Stephen's chain became
more and more unbearable to him, and that he had long
fits of brooding, when he looked so miserable and
unhappy that Gabriel's heart fairly ached for him.
At last the lad, who was a sympathetic little fellow,
felt that he
 could stand it no longer, but must try and help him in
"If I could only speak to the Abbot himself," thought
Gabriel, "surely he would see that Brother Stephen is
The Abbot, however, was a very stately and dignified
person; and Gabriel did not quite see how a little
peasant boy like himself could find an opportunity to
speak to him, or how he would dare to say anything even
if he had a chance.
Now it happened the very morning that Gabriel was
thinking about all this, he was out in the Abbey
kitchen beating up the white of a nice fresh egg which
he had brought with him from home that day. He had the
 in an earthen bowl, and was working away with a curious
wooden beater, for few people had forks in those days.
And as he beat up the white froth, the Abbey cooks also
were busy making pasties, and roasting huge pieces of
meat before the great open fireplace, and baking loaves
of sweet Normandy bread for the monks' dinner.
But Gabriel was not helping them; no, he was beating
the egg for Brother Stephen to use in putting on the
gold in the border he was painting. For the brothers
did not have the imitation gold powders of which we see
so much to-day; but instead, they used real gold, which
they ground up very fine in earthen mortars, and took
 much trouble to properly prepare. And when they wanted
to lay it on, they commonly used the white of a fresh
egg to fasten it to the parchment.
So Gabriel was working as fast as he could, for Brother
Stephen was waiting; when all at once he happened to
look out the kitchen door, which opened on a courtyard
where there was a pretty garden, and he saw the Abbot
walking up and down the gravel paths, and now and then
stopping to see how the tulips and daffodils were
"He saw the Abbot walking up and down"
As Gabriel looked, the Abbot seated himself on a stone
bench; and then the little boy, forgetting his awe of
him, and thinking only of Brother Stephen and his chain
 ran out as fast as he could, still holding his bowl in
one hand and the wooden beater in the other.
As he came up to where the Abbot was sitting, he
courtesied in such haste that he spilled out half his
egg as he eagerly burst out:
"O reverend Father! Will you not command Brother
Stephen to be set free from his chain?"
The Abbot at first had smiled at the droll figure made by
the little boy, whom he supposed to be one of the
kitchen scullions, but at this speech he stiffened up
and looked very stern as Gabriel went on breathlessly:
"He is making such a beautiful book, and he works so
hard; but the chain is so dreadful to him,
 and I was sure that if you knew they had put it on him,
you would not allow it!"
Here the Abbot began to feel a trifle uncomfortable,
for he saw that Gabriel did not know that he himself
had ordered Brother Stephen to wear the chain. But he
mentioned nothing of this as he spoke to Gabriel.
"Boy," he said, severely, "what affair of thine is this
matter about Brother Stephen? Doubtless if he is
chained, it is a punishment he hath merited. 'Tis
scarcely becoming in a lad like thee to question these
things." And then, as he looked sharply at Gabriel, he
added, "Did Brother Stephen send thee hither? Who art
 At this Gabriel hung his head, and, "Nay, sir," he
answered, simply, "he does not know, and perhaps he
will be angry with me! I am his colour-grinder, and I
was in the kitchen getting the egg for his gold,"—here
suddenly Gabriel remembered his bowl, and looking down
in dismay, "Oh, sir," he exclaimed, "I have spilled the
egg, and it was fresh-laid this morning by my white
hen!" Here the boy looked so honestly distressed that
the Abbot could not but believe that he spoke the
truth, and so he smiled a little as he said, not
"Well, never mind about thy hen,—go on; thou wast in
the kitchen, and then what?"
"I saw you in the garden,"
 answered Gabriel, "and—and—I thought that if you knew
about the chain, you would not like it;" (here the
Abbot began to look very stern again); "and," Gabriel
added, "I could not bear to see Brother Stephen so
unhappy. I know he is unhappy, for whenever he notices
the chain, he frowns and his hand trembles so he can
"Ah," said the Abbot to himself, "if his hand trembles,
that is another matter." For the Abbot knew perfectly
well that in order to do successfully anything so
delicate as a piece of illumination, one must have a
steady hand and untroubled nerves; and he began to
think that perhaps he had gone a little too far in
 Stephen. So he thought a minute, and then to Gabriel,
who was still standing before him, not quite knowing
what to do, he merely said:
"Go back to thy work, lad, and mind thy colours; and,"
he added with haughty dignity, "I will do as I think
best about Brother Stephen's chain."
So Gabriel went back to the kitchen feeling very
uncomfortable, for he was afraid he had displeased the
Abbot, and so, perhaps, done more harm than good to
Brother Stephen. While he was quite sure he had
displeased Brother Stephen, for he had kept him waiting
a long while, and worse still, had spilled the best egg
there was in the kitchen!
 However, the lad begged one of the cooks to let him
have another egg, and, whisking it up as quickly as he
could, made haste to carry it to the chapter-house.
As he pushed open the door, Brother Stephen said,
sharply, "How now! I thought they had chained thee to
one of the tables in the kitchen!"
"I am so sorry," said Gabriel, his face very
red,—"but—I—spilled the first egg and had to make ready
He hoped Brother Stephen would not ask him how he
happened to spill it; for by this time he began to
realize that the high-spirited monk probably had
reasons of his own for submitting to the punishment of
the chain, and
 that very likely he would be displeased if he knew that
his little colour-grinder had asked the Abbot to free
him. So Gabriel felt much relieved when, without
further questions, Brother Stephen went on with his
work, in which for the moment he was greatly absorbed.
And thus the day went quietly on, till early in the
afternoon; when, to the great surprise of both of them,
the door slowly opened, and in walked the Abbot
The Abbot was haughty, as usual, and, as Brother
Stephen saw him come in, he raised his head with an
involuntary look of pride and resentment; but neither
spoke as the Abbot stepped over
 to the table, and examined the page on which the monk
This particular page happened to be ornamented with a
wide border of purple flag-flowers, copied from some
Gabriel had gathered the day before in a swampy corner
of one of the wayside meadows. Their fresh green
leaves and rich purple petals shone with royal effect
against the background of gold; while hovering over
them, and clinging to their stems,
were painted honey-bees, with gauzy wings, and
soft, furry-looking bodies of black and gold.
As the Abbot saw how beautiful it all was, and how
different from any other of the Abbey illuminations, he
smiled to himself
 with pleasure. For the Abbot, though he never said a
great deal, yet very well knew a good piece of artistic
work when he saw it. Instead of merely smiling to
himself, however, it would have made Brother Stephen
much happier if he had taken the trouble to say aloud
some of the nice things he was thinking about the work.
For Brother Stephen felt very bitter as he thought over
all he had been made to bear; and even as the Abbot
looked, he saw, sure enough, that his hand trembled as
Gabriel had said; for the poor monk had hard work to
control his feelings.
Now the Abbot really did not mean to be unkind. It was
only that he did not quite know how
 to unbend; and perhaps feeling this, he soon went out.
Gabriel, who had been very much afraid he might say
something to him about their conversation of the
morning, felt greatly relieved when the door closed
behind him; and the rest of the afternoon he and
Brother Stephen worked on in silence.
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