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THE COUNT'S TAX
ND in this happy manner the spring and summer wore away
and the autumn came. Brother Stephen felt very
cheerful, for the beautiful book grew more beautiful
week by week; and he was very proud and happy, because
he knew it was the loveliest thing he had ever made.
Indeed, he himself was so cheerful, that as the autumn
days, one after another, melted away, it was some
little time before he noticed
 that Gabriel was losing his merriness, and that he had
begun to look sad and distressed. And finally, one
morning, he came looking so very unhappy, that Brother
Stephen asked, with much concern:
"Why, lad, whither have all thy gay spirits taken
flight? Art thou ill?"
"Nay, sir," answered Gabriel, sadly; "but oh, Brother
Stephen, we are in so much trouble at home!"
At this the monk at once began to question him, and
learned that Gabriel's family were indeed in great
And this is how it came about: in those days the
peasant folk had a very hard time indeed.
 All of the land through the country was owned by the
great nobles; and the poor peasants, who lived on the
little farms into which the land was divided, had few
rights. They could not even move to another place if
they so wished, but were obliged to spend all their
lives under the control of whatever nobleman happened
to own the estate on which they were born.
They lived in little thatched cottages, and cultivated
their bits of land; and as rent for this, each peasant
was obliged to help support the great lord who owned
everything, and who always lived in a strong castle,
with armed men under his command.
The peasants had to raise
 wheat and vegetables and sheep and cows, so that the
people of the castles might eat nice, white bread, and
nut cookies and roast meat; though the poor peasants
themselves had to be content, day after day, with
little more than hard, black bread, and perhaps a
single bowl of cabbage or potato soup, from which the
whole family would dip with their wooden spoons.
Then, too, the peasants often-times had to pay taxes
when their noble lord wished to raise money, and even
to follow him to war if he so commanded, though this
did not often happen.
And now we come to the reason for Gabriel's troubles.
It seems that the Count Pierre de
 Bouchage, to whose estate Gabriel's family belonged,
had got into a quarrel with a certain baron who lived
near the town of Evreux, and Count Pierre was
determined to take his followers and attack the baron's
castle; for these private wars were very common in
But Count Pierre needed money to carry on his little
war, and so had laid a very heavy tax on the peasants
of his estate; and Gabriel's father had been unable to
raise the sum of money demanded. For besides Gabriel,
there were several little brothers and sisters in the
family, Jean and Margot and little Guillaume, who must
be clothed and fed; and though the father was honest
hard-work-  ing yet the land of their little farm was poor, and it
was all the family could do to find themselves enough
on which to live.
When peasant Viaud had begged Count Pierre to release
him from the tax, the count, who was hard and
unsympathetic, had become angry, and given orders that
the greater part of their little farm should be taken
from them, and he had seized also their little flock of
sheep. This was a grievous loss, for out of the wool
that grew on the sheep's
backs, Gabriel's mother every
winter made the warm, homespun clothes for all the
Indeed, Count Pierre had no real right to do all this;
but in those times, when a noble lord
 chose to be cruel and unjust, the poor peasants had no
way to help matters.
And this was not all of Gabriel's woes; for only a few
days after he had told these things to Brother Stephen,
when he went home at night, he found his mother crying
bitterly, and learned that Count Pierre, who was having
some trouble raising his money, and so had become more
merciless than ever, had that day imprisoned his father
at the castle, and refused to release him unless some
of the tax were paid.
This was the hardest blow of all; and though the other
children were too young to understand all that had
befallen them, poor Gabriel and his mother were so
dis-  tressed that neither slept that night; and the next
morning when the little boy arose, tired out instead of
rested by the long night, he had scarcely the heart to
go away to the Abbey, and leave things so miserable at
home. But his mother thought it best for him to keep on
with his work with Brother Stephen, because of the
little sum he earned; and then, too, he felt that he
must do his part to help until King Louis's book was
finished. After that, he did not know what he could do!
He did not know how he could best try to take his
father's place and help the family; for, after all, he
knew he was only a little boy, and so things seemed
 Indeed the grief and poverty that had come upon them at
home made Gabriel so sad that Brother Stephen was quite
heart-broken, too, for he deeply loved the lad. As he
worked, he kept trying all the while to think of some
way to help them; but as the monk had passed all his
life within the walls of the Abbey, he knew but little
of the ways of the outside world; and he had no money
of his own, or he would gladly have paid the tax