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Contents > Author > Sara Cone Bryant > The Hidden Servants 1873- Unknown
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Sara Cone Bryant
The Hidden Servants
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[Adapted, with quotations, from the poem in The Hidden
Servants, by Francesca Alexander (Little, Brown & Co.)]

This is a legend about a hermit who lived
long ago. He lived high up on the mountain-
side in a tiny cave; his food was roots
and acorns, a bit of bread given by a
peasant, or a cheese brought by a woman
who wanted his prayers; his work was
praying, and thinking about God. For
forty years he lived so, preaching to the
people, praying for them, comforting them
in trouble, and, most of all, worshiping
in his heart. There was just one thing he
cared about: it was to make his soul so
pure and perfect that it could be one of the
stones in God's great Temple of Heaven.

One day, after the forty years, he had a
great longing to know how far along he
had got with his work,--how it looked to
the Heavenly Father. And he prayed that
he might be shown a man--

"Whose soul in the heavenly grace had grown
To the selfsame measure as his own;
Whose treasure on the celestial shore
Could neither be less than his nor more."

As he looked up from his prayer, a
white-robed angel stood in the path before
him. The hermit bowed before the
messenger with great gladness, for he knew
that his wish was answered. "Go to the
nearest town," the angel said, "and there,
in the public square, you will find a
mountebank (a clown) making the people laugh
for money. He is the man you seek, his
soul has grown to the selfsame stature as
your own; his treasure on the celestial
shore is neither less than yours nor more."

When the angel had faded from sight,
the hermit bowed his head again, but this
time with great sorrow and fear. Had his
forty years of prayer been a terrible
mistake, and was his soul indeed like a clown,
fooling in the market-place? He knew not
what to think. Almost he hoped he should
not find the man, and could believe that he
had dreamed the angel vision. But when
he came, after a long, toilful walk, to the
village, and the square, alas! there was the
clown, doing his silly tricks for the crowd.

The hermit stood and looked at him
with terror and sadness, for he felt that he
was looking at his own soul. The face he
saw was thin and tired, and though it kept
a smile or a grin for the people, it seemed
very sad to the hermit. Soon the man felt
the hermit's eyes; he could not go on with
his tricks. And when he had stopped and
the crowd had left, the hermit went and
drew the man aside to a place where they
could rest; for he wanted more than
anything else on earth to know what the man's
soul was like, because what it was, his was.

So, after a little, he asked the clown, very
gently, what his life was, what it had been.
And the clown answered, very sadly, that
it was just as it looked,--a life of foolish
tricks, for that was the only way of earning
his bread that he knew.

"But have you never been anything
different?" asked the hermit, painfully.

The clown's head sank in his hands.
"Yes, holy father," he said, "I have been
something else. I was a thief! I once
belonged to the wickedest band of mountain
robbers that ever tormented the land, and
I was as wicked as the worst."

Alas! The hermit felt that his heart was
breaking. Was this how he looked to the
Heavenly Father,--like a thief, a cruel
mountain robber? He could hardly speak,
and the tears streamed from his old eyes,
but he gathered strength to ask one more
question. "I beg you," he said, "if you
have ever done a single good deed in
your life, remember it now, and tell it
to me;" for he thought that even one
good deed would save him from utter

"Yes, one," the clown said, "but it was
so small, it is not worth telling; my life
has been worthless."

"Tell me that one!" pleaded the hermit.

"Once," said the man, "our band broke
into a convent garden and stole away one
of the nuns, to sell as a slave or to keep for
a ransom. We dragged her with us over
the rough, long way to our mountain camp,
and set a guard over her for the night. The
poor thing prayed to us so piteously to
let her go! And as she begged, she looked
from one hard face to another with trusting,
imploring eyes, as if she could not
believe men could be really bad. Father,
when her eyes met mine something pierced
my heart! Pity and shame leaped up, for
the first time, within me. But I made my
face as hard and cruel as the rest, and she
turned away, hopeless.

"When all was dark and still, I stole like
a cat to where she lay bound. I put my
hand on her wrist and whispered, `Trust
me, and I will take you safely home.'
I cut her bonds with my knife, and she
looked at me to show that she trusted.
Father, by terrible ways that I knew,
hidden from the others, I took her safe
to the convent gate. She knocked; they
opened; and she slipped inside. And, as
she left me, she turned and said, `God will

"That was all. I could not go back to
the old bad life, and I had never learned
an honest way to earn my bread. So I
became a clown, and must be a clown until
I die."

"No! no! my son," cried the hermit,
and now his tears were tears of joy. "God
has remembered; your soul is in his sight
even as mine, who have prayed and
preached for forty years. Your treasure
waits for you on the heavenly shore just
as mine does."

"As YOURS? Father, you mock me!"
said the clown.

But when the hermit told him the story
of his prayer and the angel's answer, the
poor clown was transfigured with joy,
for he knew that his sins were forgiven.
And when the hermit went home to his
mountain, the clown went with him. He,
too, became a hermit, and spent his time
in praise and prayer.

Together they lived, and worked, and
helped the poor. And when, after two
years, the man who had been a clown
died, the hermit felt that he had lost a
brother holier than himself.

For ten years more the hermit lived in
his mountain hut, thinking always of God,
fasting and praying, and doing no least
thing that was wrong. Then, one day, the
wish once more came, to know how his
work was growing, and once more he
prayed that he might see a being--

"Whose soul in the heavenly grace had grown
To the selfsame measure as his own;
Whose treasure on the celestial shore
Could neither be less than his nor more."

Once more his prayer was answered.
The angel came to him, and told him to
go to a certain village on the other side
of the mountain, and to a small farm
in it, where two women lived. In them
he should find two souls like his own, in
God's sight.

When the hermit came to the door of the
little farm, the two women who lived there
were overjoyed to see him, for every one
loved and honored his name. They put
a chair for him on the cool porch, and
brought food and drink. But the hermit
was too eager to wait. He longed greatly
to know what the souls of the two women
were like, and from their looks he could
see only that they were gentle and honest.
One was old, and the other of middle age.

Presently he asked them about their
lives. They told him the little there was to
tell: they had worked hard always, in the
fields with their husbands, or in the house;
they had many children; they had seen
hard times,--sickness, sorrow; but they
had never despaired.

"But what of your good deeds," the
hermit asked,--"what have you done for

"Very little," they said, sadly, for they
were too poor to give much. To be sure,
twice every year, when they killed a sheep
for food, they gave half to their poorer

"That is very good, very faithful," the
hermit said. "And is there any other good
deed you have done?"

"Nothing," said the older woman,
"unless, unless--it might be called a good
deed--" She looked at the younger
woman, who smiled back at her.

"What?" said the hermit.

Still the woman hesitated; but at last
she said, timidly, "It is not much to tell,
father, only this, that it is twenty years
since my sister-in-law and I came to live
together in the house; we have brought
up our families here; and in all the
twenty years there has never been a cross
word between us, or a look that was
less than kind."

The hermit bent his head before the
two women, and gave thanks in his heart.
"If my soul is as these," he said, "I am
blessed indeed."

And suddenly a great light came into
the hermit's mind, and he saw how many
ways there are of serving God. Some
serve him in churches and in hermit's cells,
by praise and prayer; some poor souls who
have been very wicked turn from their
wickedness with sorrow, and serve him
with repentance; some live faithfully and
gently in humble homes, working, bringing
up children, keeping kind and cheerful;
some bear pain patiently, for his sake.
Endless, endless ways there are, that only
the Heavenly Father sees.

And so, as the hermit climbed the mountain
again, he thought,--

"As he saw the star-like glow
Of light, in the cottage windows far,
How many God's hidden servants are!"


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