Saints: Saint Kentigern and the Robin

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 Kentigern and the Robin

ONCE upon a time Saint Servan kept a school near Glasgow in Scotland, and many boys, big and little, came there to study. Now of all these boys there was one who surpassed the rest in everything that makes a good scholar. Kentigern was one of the smallest boys in the school, and yet he stood at the head of all his classes. It was Kentigern who found the answer to the knottiest problem, and who read off the hardest passages of Latin when no one else was able to make sense of them. It was Kentigern who learned his lessons first and who recited them best. It was Kentigern who sang the loudest and was never off the pitch, and good Saint Servan loved him best of all his pupils.

For all these reasons, and for several more like them, the other boys were jealous of Kentigern and did everything they could to trouble him and make him unhappy. They tried to make him fail in his lessons by talking and laughing when it was his turn to recite. But this was a useless trick; his answers were always ready, so they had to give this up.

They teased him and called him names, trying to make him lose his temper so that he would be punished. But he was too good-natured to be cross with them, so they had to give this up. They tried to coax him into mischief and lead him do something which would make Saint Servan angry with him. But Kentigern loved his master too well to do anything to trouble him. So the boys had finally to give this up also.

There was only one way to bring Kentigern into disgrace. They must plan a trap, and make him fall into it For weeks they racked their brains trying to think what they should do; but at last they thought they had hit upon a plan.

It was all concerned with a fire. In those days there were no matches with which to strike a light in a second. Matches had not been invented in the year 600, nor indeed for many centuries afterwards. Their way of making a fire was by rubbing two dry sticks together until they grew hot and a spark fell out upon the wood which was to be kindled. And this was a very difficult and tiresome thing to do, especially in the winter when there were few dry sticks to be found. So the fire which was kept burning night and day in the great fireplace of Saint Servan's school was tended carefully, and it would be a very serious thing to let this go out. For how would the breakfast be cooked, and the rooms warmed, and the candles lighted for the morning service in the chapel if there were no fire on the great hearth?

So for a week at a time the boys had to take turns in tending the fire, and the boy whose turn it was had to rise at midnight and put on wood enough to keep the blaze bright until morning. And oh! how angry Saint Servan would be with any boy who was so careless as to let the fire go out in the night.

Now it was Kentigern's week to tend the fire, and for several days he did tend it faithfully. But the boys were waiting for a chance to play their mean trick. On the fourth night Kentigern rose as the chapel clock boomed "twelve!" and went down to the kitchen to give the hungry fire its midnight lunch of snappy wood. But as soon as he stepped into the great empty hall he knew something was wrong. Br-r-r! The air was damp and chilly, and there was no crimson glow on the hearthstones. Kentigern shivered and ran to the fireplace, peering into the black cavern. There was nothing but a heap of white ashes and half-burnt wood!

Then Kentigern's heart sank, for he knew he should be blamed for carelessness, although he suspected that some one had thrown water on the fire and put it out. And he guessed that it was the other boys who had done this spiteful thing to bring him into trouble. He did not know what to do. But a sudden courage came to him. He took up a log of wood from the corner and laid it on the heap of ashes. Then bending down he blew gently on the pile. And oh, wonderful to say! It was as if he had scratched a dozen cards of matches and had touched them to a pile of paper. Hardly had his breath stirred the ashes and made the moss shiver on the great log, when the whole fireplace was filled with dancing flames, and the wood began to snap and crack in the best kind of a blaze. Kentigern laughed softly to himself as he stole back to bed, and said never a word to the sleeping boys who had tried to make mischief for him.

When they woke in the morning they began to chuckle and nudge one another, expecting every moment to see Saint Servan come frowning in search of the careless Kentigern. And every boy was ready to declare that the fire was burning brightly when he went to bed, and that Kentigern had forgotten to go down and tend it at midnight. But they were prevented from telling this falsehood. For the bell rang as usual for breakfast, and down they all went to find a beautiful fire burning on the hearth, and Kentigern going with his taper to light the chapel candelabra. They did not know how it had happened till long, long afterwards when Kentigern had made many other wonders come to pass, and when he was known far and wide as a Saint even wiser than Servan his master.

(1000 words)

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