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Lady, as she threaded through the bowed waiters in the antechamber, who were praying for one who had just passed through.
The Christian Vagabond's footsteps were as light as those of the Lady of Charity. His grand head, shaded by sorrow, bent forward from the foot of the bed.
“ It was so like death some hours ago : it is death now, and now more like the dream of memory I had than ever.”
The Christian Vagabond, kneeling with the rest, towered over the sobbing women; and the prayer that worn companion of human sorrows spake, comforted them.
THE CHAMBER OF CIIRIST.
It is the glory of the house. It has a southern aspect.
The prayers of the household are upon it when the sleeper is within. White as the mountain top its linen is, and the air is balmy from sweet funeral jars of the flowers of the field. “ PEACE AND WelCOME” are in marble letters upon the door-step.
66 BY THE LORD's LEAVE ” overhead, in letters massed in solid gold.
“ Have a room in your house for Jesus Christ when he comes,” St. Chrysostom said. “Be sure you receive the stranger cordially, with joy, with liberal hand and heart. Say of the chamber, here is the little place I have reserved for my Divine Master. He will not despise it, poor though it be.' Yea, Jesus is in the street, in the guise of a stranger who approaches. It is night: he prays a lodging. The most miserable shelter will be grateful warmth to him. Refuse him not. Beware lest you be cruel or inhuman.”
“Many, exercising hospitality, have received angels unawares," St. Paul speaks in the ear of him who is draping the couch in the chamber of Christ. St. John the Almoner called his poor guests his lords, albeit he was Patriarch of Jerusalem. Was the Host ever more excellently cradled than when borne by St. Exupère, Bishop of Toulouse, in a basket-all the gold and silver of his cathedral having been sold to solace the poor?
The chamber abounds in the brightness of an ever-anxious charity. The roses nod through the open lattice. It is at this window the birds are fed on winter mornings. The robin knows it. The swallows build in its corners. The bees murmur with a deeper humi of content on the petals of its flowers. Nay, the discreet and tender moon slants her light so that it shall gently reach the sleeper, nor for
an instant molest his slumbers. Rose-crowns of virtue have shaded the brows of the maidens who have spun the flax for the linen ; and Christian heroes have thrown the shuttle to make the sheets for the chamber of Christ. The plumb and line by which the walls were kept straight directly prone to heaven were held in the sober hands of Truth—of Truth the Martyr! The rafters pressed the shoulders of good men ; and holy carpenters drew and fixed them together, while laughing children held the nails open in their pinafores. The days were happy when the building of the chamber of Christ was proceeding : happiest was that on which the eldest beggar of the town was raised upon the shoulders of rejoicing saints to crown the roof with a bunch of olive! There was a mighty discussion over the building. There were those who willed a towering dome, that the guest, waking, might see, far as human hands could permit him, towards heaven : a crystal dome to be fashioned by Patience, Faith, and Learning, in one mass, out of the sands of the Red Sea.
“Let the window be broad and easy, that it may lie open on sweetbreathing nights and on fresh mornings," was the counter-proposition, " and the guest's eyelids may open upon the very gates of heaven.”
“No palace-chamber, but a plain, good room, with radiant Welcome for rich furniture," was another opinion.
“I'd build it with walls rough-hewn from the rock, and thatch it with the blossoming heather of the wild solitudes, in which holy men are wont to set their footsteps, pondering the goodness and the might of God.” This from an archbishop.
“Italy and Greece should yield the gems of their quarries to make the four walls. The chamber should be so spacious that, pacing its length, the stranger might say his Paternoster easily. The grandest artisans the world has seen should labour, and for long, on its furnishing; and through the pierced wall farthest from the couch, Mozart should float to the waking ears of the guest.” A far outlying village priest, in rusty black gown, gave this counsel.
In the end, the good men who gave their advice on the original building of the chamber of Christ, parted friends, but not agreed. The chamber had never been built, it may be, had not the very humblest of the holy host remained behind, and, in silence deep as that which Death compels in any chamber where he enters, begun the work. Somehow the stones fitted which the lowly, willing hands brought together. The oaken beams were without flaw, and could be accommodated one to the other; nay, the door shouldered afar and brought to close the chamber, fitted the way like the cabinet
work of Paris. The labour came to an excellent end, albeit the wise and great doctors had departed on their separate ways, and were far off when the beggar was hoisted to the roof.
The chamber of Christ has been built in many nooks and corners of the world since, with plumb and line in pocket, the host of venerable doctors parted. St. Ambroise has sold his sacred vessels ; St. Hugues, Bishop of Grenoble, has made away with his pastoral ring for the work. The poor whom Charlemagne gathered to the chamber of Christ within his palace, he called his masters, so sacred a place was the poor guests' room to him. In the morning the guest has gone forth in the last suit of the host, who remained naked; a lamb voluntarily shorn in the faith that the wind would be tempered to his case. Vainglorious builders also have been by the score, who have raised chambers of precious stones, from scaffold poles of substantial gold. Vanity has been of the building committee. The work has sometimes not prospered, with the treasures of Peru for concrete foundation. Nor has the humble work of common sandstone, although the cement has been mixed ere now in an archbishop's mitre. The rain and wind have conspired against the builders who have lifted the trowel to the sound of trumpet, and have been artisans of Christ in vanity.
That which humility has put together; the chamber struck with barbaric blows out of the rock; the cavern torn in the earth with the nails of Piety, her whole heart in the pain and waste of the effort ; these have endured. The sleep of the guest has been perfect : although the chamber has been on a morass, and the lizard sole painter of the walls.
of these chambers the Christian Vagabond had seen many, in many lands. Dressed by savage men, with poles and skins, who knew not that it was Christ's chamber they were putting together for the tall, grey stranger, with the mild face, and the greasy staff, whose breast was tawny as theirs ! Nay, in the blue and white north it had been built of snow and bell-shaped, by puny men who could understand with the Guest only the language of the heart which God has made one for all human eyes ;-the one primeval, everlasting, silent utterance.
“ It was once a single broad leaf, in the torrid East, which dusky arms held over my head, when I had swooned and fallen in the long rank grasses of a fever-land," the Christian Vagabond said, speaking to the Lady of Charity and her sisters, gathered in the refectory, to cat again of the waste of the poor, when all their weary, aged guests were folded in rest for the night.
“But I have feasted to-day, Sister," the Vagabond said, glancing at the beechen bowls in which a few scraps were left. “I have been with those who have lived on the refuse of a hospital, the leper's bitter crust; and have drunk from the cup which the most loathsome of the afflicted had used. We have, sisters, just eaten like St. Louis. Had we banqueted more richly there would have been one more hungry creature in the world to-night. My eyelids are heavy; for I have mastered some leagues this day; and the stars last found me crawling into the chamber (a tent of rags--an over-windy one to an old man) with gipsy faces around me, bidding me sleep well. The east wind was blowing gustily over the common; and I was not quite well pegged down. So that there is an ache courses from left shoulder to wrist, and
The sisters had risen. Each lit her taper. The Lady of Charity bowed to her guest, who rose to his full height, and bore his left arm firm across his chest, while he returned the salute of his hostess, then followed her to the outer corridor.
It was no stately nor dull procession to the chamber of Christ. Through the spacious corridors, surrounded by the taper-bearing sisters as by a swarm of fire-flies, and with the Lady of Charity, whose taper was taller than the rest, and who bore fresh leaves of the lily, leading the way, the ancient Pilgrim with the still lofty step went on his way to rest, his staff ringing, under the vigour of his wielding, upon the marble.
“Tomorrow, Sister, I shall beg to hear somewhat of the poor soul that sped just now."
“I know of her sorrows only,” the Lady answered.
Over the chamber's inscription a lamp was slung, and gave forth a lustrous white flame that shone through every night of every year-for the chamber was always ready. When the Stranger had reached the threshold, the Lady of Charity held forth the tall taper to him. The door of the chamber was closed with some somewhat faded lily leaves laid athwart the panel and the jamb, upon burnished hooks.
“ The chamber has been empty, to our grief,” the Lady murmured, as she raised the withered lilies and passed them to Sister Ursula.
The door fell open, and while the Christian Vagabond passed within, Sister Charity, in gentle and devout voice, her sisters repeating after her, their heads bent, said,
“ By the Lord's leave. The Lord be with you.”
Whereupon the Stranger, holding the taper high above him, answered,
" The Lord's blessing be upon this house, and upon all His creatures, this night."
He withdrew to the chamber and closed the door; and, gently rustled, the crisp new lily-leaves the Lady of Charity lay upon the burnished hooks, for the sole fastening of the chamber of Christ.
The Vagabond paused within, listening to the retreat of the sisters; and it seemed to him like the sweep and murmur of heavenly wings passing along the galleries.
He bent himself in meditation and prayer, seeking forgiveness for the past, and strength and true direction for the future. As with stiffened limbs he rose, he heard a rougher hand than Sister Charity's lifting the lily-leaves at the door.
A hideous old man—whose presence instantly poisoned the air of the chamber, whose tatters were foul, whose face was full of gloomy misery-stood forward. The door closed behind him, and silver voices at his back said,
“ By the Lord's leave. The Lord be with you.”
The lily-leaves rustled upon the burnished hooks again, and the feathery murmurs died once more along the galleries.
The Christian Vagabond had a knee upon the couch. weary and in pain ; but he turned and bowed to the new guest, saying,
“ All men are welcome in this chamber."
The hapless wretch could neither hear nor speak. But the tears rolled and tumbled about his rugged cheeks, while the Vagabond bathed his sore feet, and put away his loathsome clothes. He wrapped him in flannels, and then took him in his brawny armsthe child of misery is light as a feather-and spread him upon the couch, and covered him, and blessed him while he fell asleep.
Then the wanderer took his blue woollens about him, and stretched his limbs at the foot of the bed, upon the wholesome rushes, in the Chamber of Christ, under the roof of the Lady of Charity.
(To be continued.)