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NIGEL'S VOCATION

CHAPTER I

BROTHER ANSELM

B

ROTHER ANSELM drove his hoe into the soft

ground, relinquished his grip of it for a moment, and sighed somewhat wearily, although he was not tired, in a physical sense, by a long day's work at trenching, manuring and clearing away the weeds, which a spell of mild spring weather had brought to the surface in thousands. That season of the year, as everybody knows, is wont to produce stir and unrest throughout the realm of creation, including its lords, and even monks, whose whole life is a defiance of natural laws, must not expect to be altogether exempt from the operation of these. But Brother Anselm, after a sojourn of two years within the sheltering, excluding walls of Lew Abbey, was not yet a monk, nor had it yet been intimated to him that the period of his novitiate was drawing towards the close for which his soul thirsted. It was, indeed, on that account that he sighed, not-as a casual spectator might have surmised-because he was young, because it was fine, warm weather, because the world is wide and because death in life is, after all, repugnant to the inborn instincts of humanity. Brother Anselm had seen a little of the world, and had tasted enough of its pleasures and temptations to dread them as his deadliest foes; all he asked now was to be allowed to take final vows, priest's vows, and—thus inexpugnably protected—to work his way, by the grace and mercy of God, to those eternal joys which cannot deceive or disappoint.

However, it must be confessed that his appearance would have impressed the casual spectator as being rather that of a young man who had missed his way than of a destined ascetic. Tall, handsome, well-proportioned, with great, restless brown eyes beneath arched brows, a slightly pointed chin and a mobile, sensitive, full-lipped mouth, he looked as though to him Fate had assigned primis et venerem et proelia. It is true that, owing to an indefinable suggestion of weakness and excitability in his comely countenance, he also looked as though Mars and Venus might have found him a difficult votary to reward with success. But what had he, in his rough, black Benedictine habit (the skirts of which he had tucked into his girdle, while his loose sleeves, flung back, displayed a pair of thin, muscular arms), to do with false heathen deities and their nominally abandoned cult? The ancient grey abbey behind him, restored and reinhabited after centuries of disuse, and looking down upon the rich, pleasant western country, of which the community now owned some fifty acres or so, was the symbol of their final overthrow -perhaps, too, the symbol of final victory over an evil, sensual world by the patient, self-denying army in the ranks of which he was a recruit. His trouble was that he was still only a recruit, still upon his trial, still reminded by constant mortifications, reproofs, penances, that his submission was not recognised for the complete, unchangeable fact that his heart knew it to be.

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