The Brothers by Arthur Christopher Benson
There was once a great Lord of Yorkshire, the Baron de Benoit, who
had two sons named Henry and Christopher. Their mother was long dead;
Henry was a bold and careless boy, courageous and fearless, outspoken
to every one, yet loving none; fond of the chase, restless, and never
weary; but Christopher was a timid and weakly child, with a heart for
all; dreaming of great deeds which he feared to do; while Henry dreamed
not, but did whatever he undertook, great things or small. Christopher
sate much with the old priest, or with the women; when the minstrels
played in the hall, his heart was lifted up within him; and he loved to
loiter alone in the woods in springtime, to look in the open faces of
the flowers, and to listen for the songs of birds. The Baron was a
rough good-natured man, who ruled his estates diligently; and he loved
Henry well, but Christopher he despised in his heart, and often said
that he was a girl spoiled in the making.
Now how different were the boys in character let the following tale
Once the huntsmen caught a wolf, and brought it to the castle yard
to make sport; the wolf blinked and snarled in the pen where they put
it; and the boys were called to kill it. Christopher bent over to look
at it, and thought that the wolf was doubtless wondering why men wished
it evil, and was longing for the deep woods and for its warm lair.
Henry thrust a spear into Christopher's hand and bade him slay it. The
wolf rose at his approach, hobbling on his pinioned feet, hating to
die, thought Christopher, among laughter and jests. And he threw the
spear down and said, I will not. Nay, you dare not, said Henry; and
he thrust the spear into the wolf's side; the wolf struggled hard, and
as Henry pushed close, tore his hand; but Henry only laughed and thrust
again; and then he daubed Christopher's face with the blood that ran
from his hand, and said, Go and tell the maidens that you have slain a
wolf in single combat.
But, for all that, Christopher loved his brother exceedingly, and
thought him the brightest and goodliest treasure in the world.
There came to stay at the castle an Abbot, a wise and brave man,
before whom even the Baron was awed; and he had much talk with
Christopher, who opened his heart to him. The Abbot found that he could
read, and knew the stories of the saints and the answers of the Mass,
and had discernment of good and evil. So the Abbot sought out the
Baron, and told him that Christopher would make a very wise priest, and
that he was apt to be ruled, and therefore, said he, he will be apt to
rule; and he added that he thought that the boy would make a great
counsellor, and even bishop; and then the Baron said that Christopher
had no courage and endurance. The Abbot replied that he believed he had
both, but that they were of a different nature to the courage and
endurance of a man-at-arms; that he was of the stuff of which holy men,
martyrs and saints, were made; but that it was ill to nurture a dove in
the nest of an eagle. So the Baron said that he should take
Christopher, and make a priest of him, if the boy would.
Then Christopher was called, and the Baron asked him bluntly whether
he would be a priest; and Christopher, seeing the Abbot's kind glance
upon him, took courage and said that he would obey his father in all
things. But he looked so wan and gentle, and so like his mother, that
the Baron put his arm about him and said kindly that he would have him
choose for himself, and kissed his cheek. But Christopher burst out
weeping and hid his face on his father's shoulder; and then he said, I
will go. And the Abbot said, Baron, you are a man of war, and yet
shall you be proud of this your son; he shall win victories indeed, but
in his own fieldnay, I doubt not that he will do your house great
service and honour. And so it was arranged that the Abbot, who was on
a journey, should return in a week and take the boy.
So Christopher had a week to make his farewells, and he made them
faithfully and tenderly, though he thought his heart would break. But
the Abbot had told him on parting that God indeed called men, when He
would have them to serve Him, and that he too was surely bidden. And
Christopher, young though he was, felt that he was like a boat that
must battle through a few breakers to reach a quiet haven; and he spake
with all and each, and said farewell, until even the roughest were
sorry that the boy should go. But the last night was the sorest, for he
must part with his brother; the boys slept together in a great bed in a
room in the tower; and Christopher dared that night to encircle his
brother with his arms, and tell him that he loved him, and that he
wished there were something small or great that he could do for him.
And Henry, who loved not caresses, said laughing, that he should not
need his services for a long time. But when I am old and weary and
have done many deeds of blood, then you may pray for me if you will.
Then Christopher would have had him talk awhile, but Henry said he was
weary and must sleep, and turned away, adding that he would wake
betimes in the morning and that they would talk then. And Christopher
lay and heard him breathe softly, and at last, wearied out, he slept.
But Henry woke in the dawn, and thinking of a stag that came down to
pull the hay from the ricks, and half fearing, too, his brother's tears
and sighs, dressed himself quietly and stole away while Christopher
slept, thinking that he would return to see him go. And when
Christopher woke and found his brother gone, he fell into such a
passion of grief that he heeded nothing else, but went through his
farewells so stonily and dumbly that the Baron made haste to set him on
his journey; and Henry did not return.
So Christopher passed into the holy life, but choosing not to be a
priest, he became a monk of the strictest discipline, so that the monks
wondered at his holiness. But they at the Castle soon forgot him and
thought no more of the frail child.
Then it happened that the Baron rode one day in the sun, and coming
home, dismounted, and fell dizzily upon his face; they laid him in his
chamber, but he never spoke, only breathed heavily; and that night he
died. And Henry, who was now of age, thought but little of his father's
death because of the respect that all paid him, and of the wealth and
power that thus flowed suddenly into his hands. And he married a fair
maiden called the Lady Alice, who bore him a son; and he ruled
diligently in his lands, and rode to battle, and lived such a life as
he best loved.
But one day there fell upon him a heaviness of limb and a loathing
for food; and though they daily tended him, he grew no better; soon he
could not even sit upon his horse, but became so pale and wasted that
he could hardly rise from his chair. And some thought that a spell was
cast upon him, but that mended not matters at all; the king's own leech
came to visit him, and shook his head, saying that no art could avail,
since the spring of life was somehow broken within him and he must die
unless God were good to him and healed him.
Now the Lady Alice feared God, and knew what wonders were wrought by
Him at the prayers of saints, so she took counsel with the priests of
the Castle, but said no word of it to the Lord Henry, because he jested
at sacred things; and the priest told her that three days' journey away
was a house of holy monks, where many miracles of healing were wrought,
and he advised her to go secretly and ask counsel of the Prior. So
under pretence of seeking for another leech, the Lady Alice rode south,
and on the third day she came to the place. The monastery stood very
solitary in a valley with much wood about it; the walls rose fair and
white, with a tall church in the midst, all lit with a heavenly light
of evening. And the Lady Alice felt in her burdened heart that God
would be gracious and hear her prayers.
They rode to the gate, and Alice asked that she might see the Prior;
she would not tell her name, but the porter seeing her attended by two
men-at-arms, admitted her; and presently the Lady Alice was had into a
small bare room, and in a moment the Prior stood before her. He was an
old man, very lean and grim, but with a kindly face; she told him that
her husband, a great knight, was sick unto death, but she told him not
her name, and the Prior spared to ask her; when she had done her story,
the Prior said that there was in the monastery a young monk, Brother
Lawrence, of such steadfast life and holiness that his prayers would
almost avail to give life to the dead; and that he would dispense him
leave, if he were willing to go with her awhile; for the Prior saw that
she was a great lady, and he was moved by her grief and purity.
So Brother Lawrence was fetched, and soon stood before them; and the
Prior told the lady's tale, and Brother Lawrence said that he would go,
if he was permitted. So in the morning they rode away. Then the Lady
Alice told him all the tale, saying that the sick man was the Baron de
Benoit, and that he loved not God, though he served him faithfully,
though knowing not that it was God whom he served. And the monk said,
Ay, and there be many such; but she wondered that he grew so
strangely pale, yet thought that it was his long fasting, and the
bitter morning air. Then the monk questioned her very nearly about all
her life, saying that in such cases it was needful to know all things,
that our prayers, he said, beat not in vain against a closed gate.
And she told him of all she knew.
Then at last, in a still twilight, they drew near to the Castle, and
the lady saw that the monk kept his eyes fixed on the ground, and
looked not to left nor right, like a man in a sore conflict; and she
knew that he prayed.
That night the monk was laid in a chamber in the tower; and all
night his lamp burned, till the dawn came up. And the watchman thought
he prayed late; but if they could have seen the monk they would have
wondered that he paced softly up and down, looking lovingly about him,
the tears welling to his eyes; once he kissed the bedpost of the bed;
and then he knelt and wrestled in prayer, until the priest called him
to the Mass. And there seemed such a radiance about him, worn and thin
though he was, that the priest marvelled to see him.
Then the Lady Alice came to fetch him in a great fearfulness, for
she knew that the Lord Henry hated monks; but the monk said to her that
she need not fear; and she took comfort.
Then she brought him to the great room where the Baron lay; and she
went in, and said, Henry, I have brought one who works many wonders of
healingand dear husband, be not angry, though he is a monk; for the
monks know many things; and perhaps God will be gracious, and give my
dear one back to me, to cherish me and our son.
The Lord Henry looked at her very sternly; but the pale and tearful
face of his wife, and her loving grief moved him, and he said, Well, I
will see him; and let it testify in how evil a case I am, that monks
are brought to my bedside, and I have not even the strength to say them
nay. He spoke roughly, but he took the Lady Alice's hand in his own
and said to her, Dear one, make haste. I will not refuse you this, for
I think it is the last request that I shall have power to grantI am
past the help of man.
For since the Lady Alice's departure, the Lord Henry had been in
very evil case; till then he had hoped; but his sleep had gone from
him, and a great blackness came over him, and seemed to part his life,
as with a dark chasm, from what lay before him. There in those lonely
hours he went through the scenes of his past life; he saw himself a
bright and bold boy, and all the joy of his early years came before
him, and he saw that his joy had been the greater because he had not
known he was more glad than others. He thought of his father and of his
frail brother Christopher; and he wished he had been kinder to both;
then he had the thought of his wife and his helpless child, and all
that might befall them. And he thought, too, of God, whom he must now
meet, who seemed to sit like a Judge, in a pavilion of clouds at a
ladder's fiery head, with no smile or welcome for him.
So the Lady Alice went out and brought Brother Lawrence to the
chamber; and at the door he prayed for strength that he might comfort
him that was sick; and Lady Alice pulled the door to and departed; and
the two were left alone.
Then Brother Lawrence murmured a Latin salutation, as the custom of
his order was; and Henry fixed his eyes, large with sickness, on him,
and made a reverence of the head. Then he said, I wish, sir, I could
give you a better welcome; but I am sick, as you see; indeed, I think I
am very near my end. The Lady Alice would have me see you, for she says
you have wrought wonderful cures. Well, here is a man who is more than
willing to be cured; but I am no saint. I believe in God and Holy
Church; butI will speak openlynot much in monks and priests.
As though, said the monk with a smile, a man should say 'I
believe in food, but not in the eating of it'yet let that pass, my
Lord Baron; I am no foe to plain speakingit was ever the mark of
Christ and the holy saints; but let me ask you first about your
disease, for that is my duty now.
Henry was well pleased with the shrewdness of the monk's words; and
he answered the Brother's questions about his illness with a good
grace. When he had done, the monk shook his head. I must warn you, he
said, that it is a sore case; but I have known such recover. I would
have time to consider; let me abide to-night under your roof, and I
will tell you to-morrow what shall be given to me to say; and the monk
made as though he would have withdrawn.
But Henry said, One question I would ask of you. I had a brother,
Christopher by name; he is a monkbut he hath sent me no word of
himself for many yearsindeed, he may be dead. Can you give me tidings
The other grew pale to the lips; then he said, as with an effort, I
know your brother, my Lord Baron, but the rules of our orderhe is of
the same order indeed as myselfare strict, and it is forbidden us to
speak of our brethren to those that are without. Be assured, however,
that he is alive and well; and perhaps you shall have tidings from
Then he went out; and presently the Lady Alice came in to see her
husband. Henry seemed to her a little brighter already, and a hope
flickered up in her heart. He smiled at her and said, My Alice, I
think well of your monk; he is a shrewd fellow, and knows his trade. I
think somewhat better of his kindhe seems to me, indeed, in some way
familiar, or reminds me of one that I know; let him be well bestowed,
and to-morrow he will tell me, as he said, what he thinks of my case.
But the monk went to the chapel, and there he wrestled sore in
prayer; and then he fasted and watched; but at last, wearied out, he
fell asleep just before the dawn, and there came a dream to him. He
dreamed that he stood in the castle yard, and he had in his hand two
pots of flowers, one of lilies and one of roses; and there came to him
a tall and strange man, with a look of command in his face, yet full of
love; and the monk thought that he turned to the stranger and offered
him the flowers, and the man laid his hand upon the roses; but the monk
said, Nay, my lord, rather take the lilies; and the other said, The
roses are mine and the lilies are mine; one will I take and leave the
other awhile; but at thy prayer I will take the lilies first, because
thou hast been faithful in a few things. Then the monk gave him the
lilies, but with a sore pang; and the other laid his hand upon them,
and the lilies withered away. Then the monk said, And now, my lord,
they are not worthy to be given thee, but the other said, They shall
revive and bloom, and then he smiled.
Then the monk awoke, and the dawn came faintly in at the east: and
he shivered in his vigil, and fell to pondering on his dream; for he
doubted not that it came from God. So, when he had pondered a little,
he was amazed and said in his prayer, Woe is me that I cannot see
light. And as he said the words the sun brightened up the sky, and in
a moment the monk saw what the Lord would have him to do.
Then, when it was day, he sought the Lady Alice, and she came and
stood before him, and he said, Lady, God will give back your lord to
youfor a time; only believe! Then she fell to weeping for joy, and
the monk checked her not, but said, These be gracious tears. Then he
said, And now I must return in haste; I must not linger. And she
prayed him to go with her to the Baron; but he said he must not; but
one thing he said he would have her promise, that if it were needful
for him to see the Baron, when he should be healed of his disease, he
would come to his summons; and the Lady Alice promised and pledged her
word. Then he blessed her and departed and rode away, looking neither
to left nor right. And the Lady Alice went to her husband, and the
Baron said, wondering, that he was better already, and he called for
food and ate with appetite; and from that day he revived, climbing back
slowly into life again. And there was great rejoicing in the Castle.
And when he was nearly well, and could walk and ride, and his
strength increased day by day, giving him exceeding joy, there rode a
monk in haste to the Castle, and said to the Lady Alice that Brother
Lawrence would see the Baron; and he added that he must not fail to
come speedily if he would see him alive, for he was in sore case. Then
the Lady Alice asked how it was with him, and the monk said that ever
since he had visited the Castle he had been in the chastening of God;
his strength ebbed from him day by day. Then the Lady Alice told her
husband of his promises, and he said, Right gladly will I go and see
the Brother, for he hath brought me back to life again, and he is a
So the Baron rode away, and as he rode the spring was coming in all
the lanes; the trees stood in a cloud of green; the woods were sweet
with flowers, and the birds sang loud and clear, and the Baron had such
joy in his heart as he had not believed a heart could hold; and he
found it in his spirit to thank God for the gift of life restored to
him, and as he went he sang softly to himself.
And he came to the house, and because he was a great Baron, the
Prior came out to do him honour, and the Baron lighted off his horse
and did him great reverence, saying, Lord Prior, I have lived
carelessly and thought little of God and served Him little; but He hath
rewarded me though I am unworthy; and now I will serve Him well. Then
the Prior rejoiced, and said, Lord Baron, thou speakest wisely, and
the Lord shall increase thee mightily.
Then the Prior led him to the infirmary, for he said that the
Brother Lawrence was near to death; and the Baron found him lying in a
little bed in a corner of the great room which was all full of light.
There stood two monks beside him; but when the Baron entered, Brother
Lawrence, who lay in a swoon, raised himself up, and said smiling, So
thou hast come, my brother. And the Baron kneeled down beside him, and
said, Yes, Brother, I have come to show my thanks to you for your
prayers and good offices. For God has heard them and given me life.
Then Brother Lawrence said, Give the glory to God, my brother, and
the baron said, Ay, I do that! and Brother Lawrence smiled and bade
the monks depart from him and leave him with the Baron alone. And then
Brother Lawrence looked upon him for a while in silence, and his eyes
were full of a heavenly light and great joy. And presently he said, I
have a thing that I must tell you, my brother. You asked of me whether
I knew your brother Christopher, and I answered you shortly enough, but
now I have leave to tell you; and I am he.
Then there was a long silence, and the Baron drew near and kissed
him on the cheek.
Then Brother Lawrence said, And now, dear brother, I will tell you
all the truth; for the hand of God is laid upon me, and to-day I must
depart; and then he told him of the vision and interpreted it saying,
The Lord was merciful and let me give my life for thine; and I give
it, O how gladly; and I tell you not this for your pity or for your
praise, but that you may know that your life is not given you for
nought; God had good works prepared for me to walk in, and now must you
walk in themand be not dismayed. He calls you not to the life of
prayer; but be loving and just and merciful to the poor and the
oppressed; for God has deeds fit for all to do; and though I could have
served Him faithfully in the cloister, you will serve Him better in the
world; only remember this, that life is lent you, and not given, and
you must increase it, that you may give it back more worthily.
Then the Baron was full of heaviness, and said that he could not
take life on these terms; that both should live, or that if his brother
must die, he would die too. Then Brother Lawrence rebuked him lovingly;
and then began to talk of their childish days, saying with a smile,
When I last saw you, dear brother, you promised me that you would talk
with me in the morning, and the morning is come now, and you will keep
your promise. And then presently he said, Henry, we are frail things,
and it is a pitiful thing that so much of vanity is mingled with our
flesh; but I used to think as a child that I would compel you some day
to think me brave, and would make you grateful to me for a service done
youand I think of this now and am glad; but now I grow weak and can
speak no more; but tell me of your life and of all that I loved in the
old days, that I may have you in my mind when I sleep beneath the
altar, if God will have one so unworthy to sleep there. And the Baron
told him all things, struggling with his tears.
Then said Brother Lawrence: The hour is come; call my brethren and
let me go; He calleth me.
Then the monks came in and made the cross of ashes, and did the
rites of death; and Brother Lawrence smiled with closed eyes, but
opened them once again upon his brother, who stood to see the end. And
presently Brother Lawrence sighed like a weary child and died.
Many years have passed since that day; the Baron is a grey-haired
man and has his grandchildren about him; and he has done worthily,
knowing that life is lent him for this end. And every year he rides
with a man-at-arms or two to stand beside the grave of Christopher, and
to renew the vow which he made when his brother died.