The Horse-Stealers and Other Stories HTML version

A Story Without A Title
IN the fifth century, just as now, the sun rose every morning and every evening retired to
rest. In the morning, when the first rays kissed the dew, the earth revived, the air was
filled with the sounds of rapture and hope; while in the evening the same earth subsided
into silence and plunged into gloomy darkness. One day was like another, one night like
another. From time to time a storm-cloud raced up and there was the angry rumble of
thunder, or a negligent star fell out of the sky, or a pale monk ran to tell the brotherhood
that not far from the monastery he had seen a tiger--and that was all, and then each day
was like the next.
The monks worked and prayed, and their Father Superior played on the organ, made
Latin verses, and wrote music. The wonderful old man possessed an extraordinary gift.
He played on the organ with such art that even the oldest monks, whose hearing had
grown somewhat dull towards the end of their lives, could not restrain their tears when
the sounds of the organ floated from his cell. When he spoke of anything, even of the
most ordinary things--for instance of the trees, of the wild beasts, or of the sea--they
could not listen to him without a smile or tears, and it seemed that the same chords
vibrated in his soul as in the organ. If he were moved to anger or abandoned himself to
intense joy, or began speaking of something terrible or grand, then a passionate
inspiration took possession of him, tears came into his flashing eyes, his face flushed, and
his voice thundered, and as the monks listened to him they felt that their souls were spell-
bound by his inspiration; at such marvellous, splendid moments his power over them was
boundless, and if he had bidden his elders fling themselves into the sea, they would all,
every one of them, have hastened to carry out his wishes.
His music, his voice, his poetry in which he glorified God, the heavens and the earth,
were a continual source of joy to the monks. It sometimes happened that through the
monotony of their lives they grew weary of the trees, the flowers, the spring, the autumn,
their ears were tired of the sound of the sea, and the song of the birds seemed tedious to
them, but the talents of their Father Superior were as necessary to them as their daily
Dozens of years passed by, and every day was like every other day, every night was like
every other night. Except the birds and the wild beasts, not one soul appeared near the
monastery. The nearest human habitation was far away, and to reach it from the
monastery, or to reach the monastery from it, meant a journey of over seventy miles
across the desert. Only men who despised life, who had renounced it, and who came to
the monastery as to the grave, ventured to cross the desert.
What was the amazement of the monks, therefore, when one night there knocked at their
gate a man who turned out to be from the town, and the most ordinary sinner who loved
life. Before saying his prayers and asking for the Father Superior's blessing, this man
asked for wine and food. To the question how he had come from the town into the desert,
he answered by a long story of hunting; he had gone out hunting, had drunk too much,