| 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 |
HEN the messenger reached the courtyard of the castle, he
found peasant Viaud awaiting him there. The poor man
looked very pale and wan from his imprisonment, and his
face pitifully showed what anxiety he had suffered in
thinking about his family left with no one to help
them. His clothes, too, were thin and worn, and he
shivered in the cold December wind. Noticing this, the
messen-  ger at once sent word to Count Pierre that he was sure
King Louis would be highly gratified, if, in further
honour of his coming marriage, the count would supply
peasant Viaud with a warm suit of clothes before
leaving the castle.
This message was almost too much for Count Pierre to
bear, but he did not dare to refuse. And the messenger
smiled to himself when, by and by, a page came and
called Gabriel's father into the castle, from which, in
a little while, he came out, warmly clad, and quite
bewildered at all that was happening to him.
As they set out together for the Viaud cottage, peasant
Viaud walking, and the messenger riding
 very slowly, the latter explained to him all about
Gabriel's little prayer in the beautiful book, and how
Lady Anne had sent it to King Louis, to whom he owed
his release from prison. But the messenger added that,
aside from the lad's father and mother, the king did
not wish any one, not even Gabriel himself, to know how
it had all come about.
For King Louis declared that he himself did not deserve
any thanks, but that the good God had only chosen the
Lady Anne and himself and Count Pierre (though the
latter did not know it) as the means of answering
Gabriel's prayer, and of helping the Christ-child bring
happiness at the blessed Christmas-time.
 For King Louis had not forgotten that the great day was
near at hand.
Of the promised return of the sheep, and the buying of
the farm by the king, the messenger said nothing then;
and when they had nearly reached the cottage, he took
leave of peasant Viaud and rode back to the Abbey. For,
having finished the king's errand, before going away,
he wanted to say good-bye to the Abbot and brothers of
St. Martin's, and also to get some of his belongings
which he had left at the Abbey.
A few minutes after the messenger had left him, peasant
Viaud reached the cottage and raised the latch,—but
then it is no use trying to tell how surprised and
 they all were! how they hugged and kissed each other,
and laughed and cried!
And then, when the first excitement was over, they
began soberly to wonder what they would do next; for
they still feared the displeasure of Count Pierre, and
still did not know where to turn to raise the tax, or
to help their poverty.
"If only he had not taken the sheep," said Gabriel's
mother, sadly, "at least I could have spun warm clothes
for all of us!"
But even as she spoke, a loud "Baa! Baa!" sounded from
up the road, and presently along came a large flock of
sheep followed by one of Count Pierre's shepherds, who,
without saying a word to any
 one, skilfully guided them into the Viaud sheepfold,
and there safely penned them in; then, still without a
word, he turned about and went off in the direction of
Gabriel's father and mother, who from the cottage
window had watched all this in silent amazement, looked
at each other, too bewildered to speak. Then they went
out together to the sheepfold, and peasant Viaud, who
began to realize that this, too, must be part of King
Louis's orders, explained to his wife that which the
messenger had told him. When he had finished, they went
back, hand in hand, to the house, their eyes filled
with happy tears, and in their hearts a great
tender-  ness for the little son who had brought help to them.
Just before dark, that same afternoon, the king's
messenger, having taken leave of the Abbey folk, once
more passed along the highroad. On his way, he was
particular to stop at the Viaud cottage, where he
contrived to have a few minutes' talk alone with
Gabriel's mother, and then wishing her a merry
Christmas, he spurred his horse, and rode along on his
journey back to Paris.
As he neared San Martin's village, he passed a little
peasant boy, in a worn blouse, walking toward the
country; and had he known that this sad lad was the
Gabriel because of whom, at King
 Louis's order, he had ridden all the way from Paris, he
would certainly have looked at the boy with keen
"He passed a little peasant boy"
While for his part, had Gabriel known that the strange
horseman was a messenger from the king, and that he had
that day played a very important part in the affairs of
the Viaud family,—he surely would have stood
stock-still and opened his eyes wide with amazement!
But the messenger was absorbed in his own thoughts, and
so rode swiftly on; while poor Gabriel was too sad and
wretched to pay much attention to any one.
As the lad drew near home, however, all at once he
 heard the bleating of sheep. At this he pricked up his
ears and began to run, his heart suddenly beating very
fast with excitement!
When he reached the sheepfold, sure enough, there was
no mistaking the sounds within. He opened the door and
hurried through the thatched shed, noting with delight
the rows of woolly backs glistening in the twilight,
and then, bursting into the cottage, rushed up to his
father and kissed and hugged him with all his might!
Indeed, Gabriel was so happy and excited that he did
not realize that he was not at all surprised with their
good fortune. For miserable as he had been for weeks,
and though he had thought
 that he had quite despaired of his prayer being
answered, yet deep down in his heart, without knowing
it, all the while he had cherished a strong hope that
it would be.
Nor was Brother Stephen surprised either, when, at
barely daybreak the next morning, before going to his
work, Gabriel hurried up to the Abbey and told him all
about it. His face beamed with delight, however, and he
seemed almost as happy over it all as Gabriel himself.
He smiled, too, but said nothing, as the lad wondered
over and over what God had done to Count Pierre, to
make him willing to free his father and restore the
sheep! He only said, as he gently patted Gabriel's
 "There, there, little one! the good God hath many ways
of softening men's hearts, and never thou mind in what
manner he hath chosen to manage the Count Pierre!"
Just then one of the monks went past the open door, his
arms full of evergreens, and carrying in his hand a pot
of the pretty white flowers that the Norman peasant
folk call Christmas roses. Seeing him, Brother Stephen
told Gabriel that he must go and help the brothers trim
the Abbey church for the joyous service of the morrow;
and so with another affectionate little pat, he went
out to do his part in arranging the holiday greens and
garlands and tall wax candles, while Gabriel
hur-  ried off to his work in the village.
The little boy was so happy, though, over the things
that had happened at home, that he went about all day
in a sort of wondering dream. And that evening as he
went home from his work, very tired, but still
dreaming, the early Christmas-eve stars shone and
twinkled so radiantly over his head and the snow
sparkled so brightly under his feet, that he fairly
tingled through and through with the nameless, magic
happiness of the blessed season!
And when he reached home, and sat down next to his
father while they ate their scanty supper, they all
felt so glad to be together again that nobody minded
 the pieces of black bread were smaller than ever, and
that when the cold wind blew through the crevices of
the cottage walls, there was not enough fire on the
hearth to keep them from shivering.
Indeed, they were all so much happier than they had
been for many weeks, that when Gabriel and the younger
children went to bed, the latter, with many little
gurgles of laughter, arranged their little wooden shoes
on the hearth, just as they had always done on
For they said to each other, Jean, and Margot, and
little Guillaume, that surely the good God had not
forgotten them after all! Had he not brought back their
father and the sheep? And surely
 he would tell the little Christ-child to bring them a
few Christmas apples and nuts!
Gabriel, however, took no part in their talk, and he
did not set his shoes on the hearth with the others;
not that he feared they would be forgotten, but rather
because he thought that he had already asked for so
much and been so generously answered, that he had had
his share of Christmas happiness.
His father was freed from prison, and the flock of
sheep, with fifty more than they had had before, were
back in the fold; and though they were not yet relieved
from the tax, nor was their land restored to them, as
he had prayed, yet he felt sure that these,
 too, would come about in some way.
And so, considering all these things, he did not quite
like to set out his wooden shoes, and thus invite the
Christ-child to give him more; for he knew the
Christ-child had a great many shoes to attend to that
night. So Gabriel, as he made himself ready for bed,
pretended not to hear the chatter of his little
brothers and sister, nor to notice what they were
When peasant Viaud, however, saw them standing their
little empty shoes in front of the meagre fire, he
bowed his head on his hands, and the tears trickled
through his fingers. But the mother smiled softly to
herself, as she kissed each of the children
 and tucked them into their worn sheepskin covers.
Next morning, at the first peep of day, every one in
the cottage was wide awake; and as soon as they opened
their eyes, the children all jumped out of bed and ran
to the hearth with little screams of delight. For there
stood the little wooden shoes,—Gabriel's, too, though
he had not put them there,—and even a larger one apiece
for the father and mother, and the blessed Christ-child
had not forgotten one!
Only instead of apples and nuts, they were filled with
the most wonderful bonbons; strange sugar birds, and
animals, and candied fruits such as no peasant child in
Normandy had ever
be-  fore seen; for they were sweetmeats that no one but the
cooks of old Paris knew just how to make.
And then, as with eager fingers the children drew out
these marvels, down in the toe of each shoe they found
a little porcupine of white sugar with pink quills
tipped with a tiny, gilded, candy crown; and last of
all, after each little porcupine, out tumbled a shining
yellow gold piece stamped with the likeness of King
Even the larger shoes were filled with bonbons, too,
and from the toe of the mother's out dropped a gold
piece, like the others, only larger. But when the
father, with clumsy hands, emptied his shoe, instead of
a gold piece, there fell out a small parchment roll
 with a silken cord, and showing at one corner a wax
seal bearing the print of the little royal porcupine
Peasant Viaud gazed at it for a few minutes, in utter
bewilderment, and then handing it to Gabriel, who was
standing by, he said:
"Here, child, 'tis a bit of writing, and thou art the
only one of us who can read. See if Brother Stephen's
lessons have taken thee far enough to make out the
meaning of this!"
Gabriel took the roll and eagerly untied the cord, and
then he carefully spelled out every word of the
writing, which was signed by Count Pierre de Bouchage.
For it was the very same parchment which King Louis's
mes-  senger had made Count Pierre sign to prove that he had
sold to the king, for a certain sum of gold, the old
Viaud farm, together with a piece of good land
adjoining it; and then, at the end of the deed, as the
writing was called, there were a few lines from King
Louis himself, which said that in honour of the blessed
Christmas-time the king took pleasure in presenting to
peasant Viaud, and his heirs for ever, everything that
he had bought from Count Pierre.
When Gabriel had finished reading, no one spoke for a
little while; it was so hard to realize the crowning
good fortune that had befallen them. Peasant Viaud
looked fairly dazed, and the mother laughed and cried
as she snatched
 Gabriel to her and kissed him again and again. The
younger children did not understand what it all meant,
and so went on munching their sweetmeats without paying
much attention to the little piece of parchment which
Gabriel still held in his hand.
As for Gabriel, he really had had no idea that any one
could possibly be so happy as he himself was at that
moment! He had not the least notion of how it had all
come about; he only knew that his heart was fairly
bursting with gratitude to the dear God who had
answered his little prayer so much more joyously and
wonderfully than he had ever dared to dream of!
In his excitement he ran out of
 the house and hurried into the sheepfold, where he
patted the soft woolly backs of each of the sheep, and
then he raced around the snowy meadows trying to
realize that all these belonged to his family for ever!
And that Count Pierre could never again imprison his
father or worry him with heavy taxes!
But the wonders of this wonderful day were not yet
over; for presently, as Gabriel raised his eyes, he saw
a strange horseman coming down the road and looking
inquiringly in the direction of the Viaud cottage. Then
seeing the boy standing in the meadow, the horseman
"Ho, lad! Is this the farm of the peasant Viaud?"
 "Yes, sir," answered Gabriel, coming up to the road;
"Art thou Gabriel?" asked the rider, stopping and
looking curiously at the little boy.
When again Gabriel wonderingly answered, "Yes, sir,"
the stranger dismounted, and, after tying his horse,
began deliberately unfastening the two fat saddlebags
hanging over the back of the latter; and loading
himself with as much as he could carry, he gave Gabriel
an armful, too, and walked toward the cottage.
To the surprised looks and questions of Gabriel's
father and mother, he only said that the Christ-child
had been in the castle of the Lady Anne of Bretagne,
and had ordered him to bring
 certain things to the family of a Norman peasant boy
named Gabriel Viaud.
And such delightful things as they were! There was a
great roll of thick, soft blue cloth, so that they
could all be warmly clad without waiting for the mother
to spin the wool from sheep's backs. There were nice
little squirrel-fur caps for all the children; there
were more yellow gold pieces; and then there was a
large package of the most enchanting sweetmeats, such
as the Bretons make at Christmas-time; little
"magi-cakes," as they were called, each cut in the
shape of a star and covered with spices and sugar;
curious old-fashioned candies and sugared chestnuts;
 pretty basket filled with small round loaves of the
fine, white bread of Bretagne; only instead of the
ordinary baking, these loaves were of a special holiday
kind, with raisins, and nuts, and dried sweet-locust
blossoms sprinkled over the top.
Indeed, perhaps never before had so marvelous a feast
been spread under a peasant roof in Normandy! All were
beside themselves with delight; and while the younger
children were dancing round and round in happy
bewilderment, Gabriel snatched up a basket, and
hurriedly filling it with some of the choicest of the
sweetmeats, started off at a brisk run for the Abbey;
for he wanted to share some of his
 Christmas happiness with Brother Stephen.
When he reached the Abbey, his eyes bright with
excitement, and his cheeks rosy from the crisp cold
air, and poured out to Brother Stephen the story of
their fresh good fortune, the monk laughed with
delight, and felt that he, too, was having the happiest
Christmas he had ever known.
And then, by and by, when he took Gabriel by the hand
and led him into the Abbey church for the beautiful
Christmas service, as the little boy knelt on the stone
floor and gazed around at the lovely garlands of green,
and the twinkling candles and white Christmas roses on
the altar, half-hidden by the clouds of fragrant
 floated up from the censers the little acolytes were
swinging to and fro,—as he listened to the glorious
music from the choir, and above all, as he thought of
how the dear God had answered his prayer, the tears
sprang to his eyes from very joy and gratitude! And
perhaps that Christmas morning no one in all France,
not even King Louis himself, was quite so happy as the
little peasant boy, Gabriel Viaud.
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