Saint Francis of Assisi (end)
Once again in the village of Gubbio a live baby hare was brought him as a present, for his breakfast. But when Francis saw the frightened look of the little creature held in the arms of one of the brothers, his heart ached with sympathy.
"Little Brother Leveret, come to me," he said. "Why hast thou let thyself be taken?" And the little fellow as if understanding the invitation jumped out of the friar's arms and ran to Francis, hiding in the folds of his gown. But when Francis took it out and set it free, very politely giving it permission to depart instead of staying to make a breakfast, it would not go. Again and again it returned nestling to its new-found friend, as if guessing that here at least it would be safe forever. But at last tenderly Saint Francis sent the good brother away with it into the wood, where it was safe once more among its little bob-tailed brothers and sisters.
Now after a life spent like Christ's in works of poverty, charity, and love, Saint Francis came at last to have one spot in the world which he could call his own. It was neither a church nor a convent, a cottage nor even a cell. It was only a bare and lonely mountain top where wild beasts lived and wild birds had a home. This retreat in the wilderness was the gift which Orlando, a rich nobleman, chose to make Saint Francis. And it was a precious gift indeed, sorely needed by the Lord's weary beggar. For he was worn with wandering; he was ill and weak, and his gentle eyes were growing dim so that he could not go along the winding ways. But he was happy still.
So one warm September day he went with some of his chosen brethren to take possession of their new home. They left the villages, the farms, and at last even the scattered shepherds' huts far below and behind them, and came into the quiet of the Italian hills. They climbed and climbed over the rocks and along the ravines, till they came in sight of the bald summit where Francis was to dwell. And here in happy weariness he paused to rest under an oak-tree and look about upon the beautiful scene.
But suddenly the air was filled with music, a chorus of trills and quavers and carols of the wildest joy. Then the air grew dark with whirring wings. The birds of the mountain were coming from everywhere to welcome home their brother. They flew to him by hundreds, perching on his head and shoulders; and when every other spot was covered they twittered into the hood of his brown mantle. The brothers stood about, wondering greatly, although they had seen Saint Francis in some such plight before. But the peasant who led the ass which had brought Saint Francis so far stood like one turned to stone, unable to believe his eyes. Here was a miracle the like of which he had never dreamed.
But Saint Francis was filled with gladness. "Dearest brethren," he said, "I think it must be pleasant to our Lord that we should dwell in this solitary place, since our brothers and sisters the birds are so glad of our coming."
And indeed, how could they help being glad of his coming, the dear, kind Saint? And how they hovered around the shelter of branches which the brethren built for him under a beech-tree on the very mountain top! One can picture them at morning, noon, and night joining in his songs of praise, or keeping polite silence while the holy man talked with God.
Many wonderful things happened upon the Monte Alverno while Saint Francis dwelt there. But none were more wonderful than the great love of Francis himself; his love which was so big and so wide that it wrapped the whole round world, binding all creatures more closely in a common brotherhood.
So that every man and every bird and every beast that lives ought to love the name of that dear Saint, their childlike, simple, happy little brother, Saint Francis of Assisi.