Saints: Saint Comgall and the Mice

This story is part of the Saints and Animals unit. Story source: The Book of Saints and Friendly Beasts by Abbie Farwell Brown (1900).

Saint Comgall and the Mice

AT the place where the Irish Sea is narrowest is the town of Bangor. There the green hills of Saint Patrick's island smile over at the purple cliffs of Scotland across the lane of water where the ships pass to and fro, just as neighbors nod across a narrow street above the heads of the passers-by. And here at Bangor Saint Comgall built a monastery, thirteen hundred long years ago.

This does not sound very interesting, but it was interesting to many people in those days, and I think it will be interesting to you. For Comgall is an Irish word which means "the goodly pledge." And the man who bore this name was a goodly pledge of friendship between man and beast.

Comgall had many pupils in his monastery, and many friends living near who loved and honored him. They did splendid things together, and tales of their doings were put into great books. But the most interesting stories of all are about certain friends of Saint Comgall who could not speak Irish and who did not wear clothes. Some of these friends wore feathers and some wore fur; the strangest story of all is about his friends with long tails and very sharp teeth. But you must wait for that till I have told about the swans.

One day Comgall was walking with some friends on the bank of a pond. All of a sudden, through the rushes and the tall grass some one spied six beautiful white swans floating on the water, preening their fine feathers and arching their necks proudly. For they could see in the water, just as if it were a mirror, how handsome they were, and it made them vain.

"Oh, Father," cried Comgall's pupils (they always called their teacher "Father" in those days), "see the lovely swans! May we not coax them ashore? We want to play with them."

Comgall chuckled inside, for he felt sure that the swans would not come to them, because they were strangers. But he said with a twinkle in his eye, "Oh, yes, boys. Call them here if you can. But you must give them something to tempt them, or I fear they will hardly come."

Then the boys tried to find a crust of bread or some crumbs in their pockets, to throw to the swans. But no one had anything, not even a peanut; for peanuts were not invented in those days. They stood on the bank whistling and calling, trying in every way to make the swans swim ashore. But the birds only cocked their red-rimmed eyes at the boys and fluttered their wings timidly.

"We don't know you," they squawked with their harsh voices. "The like of you are no friends of ours. Hurrooh! Go away and leave our pond in peace."

All this time Comgall had been standing behind them on the bank laughing at the vain attempts of his pupils. But now he walked quietly down to the pond. Making a little croony sound in his throat, he put out his hand towards the swans, but with no crumbs to tempt them.

The swans had never before seen him. But as soon as they heard his voice you should have seen the commotion! How the water did wrinkle and spatter as those dignified birds scurried headlong towards Comgall!

Each one seemed trying to be the first to reach his side; and each one flapped his wings and went almost into a fit for fear another should get ahead of him. So finally they reached the bank and gathered around Comgall, talking to him all at once and telling him how much they liked the look of him. And one great white swan fluttered into the old man's lap and sat there letting himself be stroked and patted, stretching his long neck up to Comgall's face and trying to kiss him with beaky lips.

You can imagine how the pupils stared at this strange sight. For they knew that the swans were as truly strangers to Saint Comgall as to the rest of them. But the swans had guessed in some way that this was a man who loved all animals, and that is why they were not afraid, but loved him as soon as they saw him.

But this next is the stranger story. Mice are harder even than swans for most people to get acquainted with. But Comgall had also made the mice his friends, as you shall see.

(700 words)

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