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"It is the same for both of us," said Matamek, sagely.
"All right. So far we are equally free to live, if we are equally able to make our living. But think now of the way we live. Which is the freer? Take our bodies. You live in the bush, and you get sick how often?" "Only at Pointe Bleue. There is balsam in the bush."
"In the city men are often sick, and even the well men rarely know the big health that can laugh at portages and
"Matamek," I said, "what is it you rain. Yet in the city, Matamek, our wish to be?"
"A man who knows where the beaver are," he replied promptly. "And what else?"
"A man with descendants." "And what else?"
"A man who can bend his grandmother." He meant that he wished to be able in argument.
"And what else?"
doctors can make us glasses for weak eyes and cure aching teeth and take out parts of the body that cause pain and straighten bones, and bring drowned men back to life. I think we are equally free in our bodies, don't you?"
"Do you want to wrestle?" asked Matamek, with a twinkle in his eye. "We could see." I wish you could
He could think of nothing further, have heard the quiet humor in his so I went on:
"You want always a feeling that you are free, don't you, Matamek? To know that nothing binds you?"
"I am free. My father now asks me, 'Is this possible, Matamek?' I am free enough."
"I was wondering," said I, "whether you or I come the nearest to having perfect freedom. I shall tell you of myself, and we 'll judge. Instead of hunting animals, I make my living hunting up truths about people and places and putting them on paper. There is always much paper, there are always many truths. I cannot starve, you might say. Yet, to be exact, there are thousands of other men doing the same. If they find the places or the truths first and write of them better, I can starve.”
"It is settled," I said, "we are equally free in the right to live and in the strength to live, and just because you can throw me into the river means nothing, for I can find white wrestlers who could tie you into knots. What I want to find is whether we are equally free in everything. free in everything. Take the life in here." I touched my head.
Matamek was too polite to say he did not understand this. So I said:
"Take the string of our thoughts for a whole day, Matamek. What do you think about in the bush?"
"At night I think about what I am going to do the next day, and the next day I do it. That is all. I look much, think little."
"You are not bothered, then, by a thousand worries. Your work is
straightforward. What this person will think about it, or that person, does n't influence you. You seem freer than I, Matamek. But wait. If you want advice, you can go only to your father. I can go to wise men who lived a thousand years ago and ask them."
"How is that?" he asked quickly. "They have stored their advice in books, and we store the books in libraries. I can find out what the wisest men have thought and felt and done when they were in the same troubles as myself. That should make me able to deal wisely with happenings. And the less ignorant a man is when something happens, the freer he is. Is n't that so, Matamek?"
he was now warmed to the debate. "You say you are more free than Matamek, and you cannot move without money, cannot have a squaw because she has to be bought, cannot take this trip unless you give Matamek money. But I can take the trip, I can have a squaw, I can move. I am free.
I need money only for the priest." "Then I am ahead of you there," said I, heartily; "my worship is free.” He shot a look of compassion on me and said:
"Do not think that I worship to the priest. That is a little game we have to play, monsieur. Here is my worship," and he pointed out into the dark beyond our fire. "It is all spiritland. Why hide beneath a church to
"You have more knowledge," he worship? The priest says this, my said quietly.
"And so more freedom? Do you admit it?”
"No!" he said vigorously. "Look, monsieur. You cover the things with words, but what is the truth? You come to me and say, 'Matamek, I like this, I like that, I wish I could do these things forever, what would I give to be able!' That is what you said yesterday, to-day, was n't it, monsieur?"
He had me there. He went on: "Well, I do these things. I do not say to you, 'O monsieur, if I could only wear your shoes, if I could only sleep in the house-boxes, if I could only have a squaw!' I am content. I like moccasins, and I will have my squaw next year. You are much older. Why do you not bring your squaw with you?"
Again he had me. I explained a little of the difficulty that the professional man has in equipping himself with and maintaining a squaw.
"That is it," he said delightedly, for
father that. They confuse me." "What do you believe?"
"I know," he said, "one thing. I know there is a spirit in this tree, in that water, in the great bush, that is son of the Great Spirit. Our stories say that these spirits are luck-bringers and disease-bringers. I shall not tell my descendants that, for I do not know it. I do know that if you tell your hunting secrets in the bush, that the leaves whisper it to the game." Matamek believed this. I could not get him to talk of his trapping except on the beach at Pointe Bleue, where there are no trees.
"Do you really think so?" I asked. "I have had it happen. Some day I shall tell you, but it 's time to get back to the monastery."
Please imagine yourself now accompanying Matamek and me. We are walking with a follower of St. Benoît. We are back in the Middle
Ages; it is the year 1100. We do not talk. By special dispensation, possibly in the hopes of a convert, our cicerone can. We hear first about the daily schedule. These men rise each morning at two o'clock. I would give my type-writer to know whether they have an honest, seraphic glee in their bosoms then or an honest and more comprehensible gloom. On Sundays the hour is one, and for special treat, on holidays, it is midnight.
They pray to the Virgin for thirty minutes, then to God for an hour, and so on until seven, when they have breakfast, which is a horribly literal affair. It is not a matter of fruit and cereal, eggs and bacon and buttered toast and honey with coffee and rich cream, most of which delicacies these saints produce upon their desert. They are allowed bread and water; just enough bread to push life forward.
It is over by 7:15, when another office is said, whereupon the monks of the choir go to manual labor until 12:15, when comes more ceremony.
At two they file, speechless, into a basement dining-room whose darkness, stone floor, boards for table, and rigorous stools would dampen one's enthusiasm for a Thanksgiving dinner. A tin of soup is cooling before each place. But in case the self in a man's body should perk up its head for a second's wistful satisfaction, they are provided with the means to drive it back. At the overseer's hammer each monk draws his knotted whip and scourges himself on legs and shoulders till the overseer gives the signal to quit. Following this appetizer, comes cabbage and onions and more bread and water, along with this reflection, "This life is nothing; eternity is everything."
There follows more manual labor
until vespers at 4:45, when, after studies and more prayers and some water and bread, these gentle souls betake themselves to a hard bed, ensconced in a dormitory's niche, at seven. Then, if they have no sins of the day to do penance for, they may sleep until two, whereupon begins again this amazing routine.
When we had seen the room of meditation, the airless dormitory, and the library outfitted with lives of the saints that could instigate, I should think, hardly a more prodigious penance than these moderns were undergoing, we were taken down-stairs, where we could talk, and I found out the principles of the Trappist régime. There are five.
The first is based on community life hinted at in the New Testament. St. Benoît, the founder, wanted to go the Acts one better, however, by generating a fortissimum genus monachorum, a species of believers whose incredible austerity might astonish even the infidel. So he advocated that they have everything in common, that they abolish the personal, until the self should be lost in the whole. Good St. Benoît admitted that it might be painful, that the soul might long for liberty and isolation or the personal intimacies; but away with these if a monk would elevate himself to God! To aggravate the effect of perpetual contact, they promulgated a law of perpetual silence. Perpetual, mind you! Thus, while ever with your fellows, you might ever be with God. It is like living ever at the bottom of a Cistercian well. But by doing this the monks follow to the letter the sixth chapter of the Order of St. Benoît.
This perpetual silence certainly is ·
favorable to prayer, particularly as news of the world, literature, the progress of science, or any of those things which strengthen curiosity, all tend to poverty of thought. If one has nothing to think about while hoeing potatoes, one must pray. So the divine office is celebrated incessantly. They can whip their lips, if not their souls, into a frenzy of activity. And they do it.
But praying can conceivably degenerate into a lazy man's job; there fore the far-seeing St. Benoît advocated a redoutable routine of manual labor, interspersed with theological studies, deemed harmless to one's vanity. Curiosity, avarice, and pride are the sure result of other reading.
The fifth tenet of the Trappist concerns penance. At first blush it seemed to me superfluous. The life of perpetual elbowing one's neighbor, without ever exchanging a good morning with him, the life of endless prayer and never-ended work seemed so moderately tempered with self-gratification as to make the need for penance, or even penitence, unnecessary. I was interested in reading in one of their tracts about the regulation of the diet. After exhorting a little more crucifixion of the body during the festivals (ironic term!) by subsisting on their two ounces of bread and their bowl of water, the writer, ravished by
the temperate idea, breaks out into this valedictory: "O happy monks! one can say, who fast so vehemently, who make of your fasting your nourishment! O happy stewards! who nourish your world so cheaply, and are never tempted to make economies on this spiritual pittance!" and so on for an ecstatic page. What verbal wreaths would he not have laid on the eight invalids who had lately been too engrossed in starving themselves to heed their ebbing strength!
At length Matamek and I were escorted into the day. The sun put its warm arms about us, and the Being whom Matamek called the Great Spirit and I call God welcomed us back. I thought of the words, "The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof." "The fulness thereof," thought I, and like a rainbow across a receding storm the words pictured for me oceangoing ships, orchestras, firesides, adventure, the gateways of music, home. With my lips I was saying farewell to our guide. He asked me to say a prayer for him. Indeed, he seemed almost to be begging for that prayer. I cannot say, however, that he seemed unhappy. I offered him a tip; he took it, and the door of his prison jarred to, leaving us out there in the "fulness thereof."
"Come, Matamek, I 'll race you to the river," I said.