Marilot is a pretty little town nestling in a cleft in the cliffs of Brittany. Long ago, when settlers first built the village, they cleared the land, of trees and bushes. In the middle of the village they set apart a small area for a little shrine to the Blessed Virgin. They called the village Mary’s Lot. Mary’s Lot became in the course of time “Marilot”. Later a wayside Calvary replaced the little shrine. A porcelain statue of Our Lady, with a mantle decorated with lilies, was placed in a niche in the village church.
The Queen of Heaven did not fail to reward these people who made her so much at home. Her sweet grace was visibly present in Marilot, and all the villagers were like a family grouped about her. Everyone liked and helped each other, honoured and pardoned each other.
Everyone, that is to say, except old Gaspard, the stone-grinder. He was a bitter man, living wrapped up in himself and caring for nobody. He would not have friendly conversations with his neighbours. The fishwives would bring their knives for filleting fish, to be sharpened. But Gaspard would not speak with them about their husbands and fishing in general.
Gaspard was a lonely man who had lost the art of talking to his fellowman. But the worst thing was that he no longer went to Church. And he would not pray to God, Our Lady, or the Saints! What a poor condition his soul was in! How unhappy he was.
He had been alone for a long time. Long ago, his two brothers had gone to America and were never heard of since. They had moved to some great noisy city where they forgot about their dear old mother and their brother.
Gaspard had never married. He had cared for his mother, until she had died. His mother had been terribly sad and ill because she had lost her two sons. As time went on Gaspard became more and more bitter and wrapped up in himself. He turned more and more into himself and away from his fellowman.
The folk of Marilot understood and spoke kindly to him, and of him. The village priest would stop and greet him hopefully. But Gaspard turned his back. He treddled his grindstone, he sharpened peoples knives and scissors. That was all. He asked for nothing except to be left alone.
But man was not made to live alone. Man cannot shut out the sounds of nature all about him: the singing of birds, the wind blowing through the trees, the pitter-patter of rain, the great crash of thunder and all the things which speak of the goodness of Creation, and the power of Almighty God.
But above all, the stone grinder could not help being stirred by the voice of Songboy. And especially he was troubled when Songboy sang to Mary, the sweetest and fairest of God’s creatures.
Songboy was the miller’s son. He had another name but Gaspard gave him the name of Songboy, because he was always singing in a loud, clear voice. The boy’s singing did something to Gaspard’s hardened heart.
One day as Gaspard was working, he heard the boy singing on the way past his cottage to the woods beyond. Gaspard stopped his grinding and stood still. The song was one he had not heard, since his own mother sang it when he was a child. Remembering his mother’s sweet song was too much for his, sorrowful heart to bear.
Gaspard came to the door so that he could hear better. He leaned against the doorpost and for once let his mind soar across the years to the dearer things, which the melody brought to his mind. It was as if the black clouds that covered his soul were parting and letting in the sunshine. And as the song continued, Gaspard’s mind began to fill with peaceful thoughts. Grace was working in his soul. This is how the miller boy’s song touched the heart and mind of sour old Gaspard, on that day.
After that, as Songboy would walk past the stone grinders cottage to the woods, carrying a fishing pole or butterfly net, Gaspard would look out to see Songboy coming along the path. He would always stop his work and listen to the boy as he sang his merry little tunes.
One day as the miller’s boy approached, Gaspard sat on the porch of his cottage pretending to be busy watching the clouds sail across the sea through an old telescope. The boy stopped singing and cried, “Gaspard, let me look through your telescope.” “Why Songboy?” said Gaspard, speaking in a gruff tone for through habit, he could speak no other way.
The miller’s boy did not ask him why he called him Songboy. He knew that people never asked the strange old stone grinder questions. He contented himself with looking through the telescope. Gaspard, a bit roughly, for kindness did not come to him easily, showed how to focus the lens, and pointed to a cloud that looked like a floating city of steeples and towers.
Songboy always stopped at the stone grinders cottage after that. He loved to look at the sky with the telescope, watching the clouds or the ships far out at sea. And he would often sing, for he saw how Gaspard loved his songs and how his sad face would soften, especially when he sang the song which Gaspard’s mother used to sing.
One day, Songboy came, trudging the path with heavy steps. His face was gloomy and sad. The old man was troubled. “Are you sick, Songboy?” “No, Gaspard,” “What is it then that grieves you then, Songboy?” “It’s you!” “Me! Gaspard!” cried the stone grinder, trembling at the very thought that he could hurt the boy, who had become the sunshine of his life. “Yes, you never come to church like the others. Why will you not, Gaspard? It is there that I can sing best!” “But it is many a long year that I go no more to church! Why do you ask me to do such a thing, Songboy! You should not worry and grieve about these things.” “But it hurts the Good Lord Who gave me my voice, and it makes the Blessed Virgin very sad. It’s for her I sing…See; I’ll make a bargain with you!” cried the miller’s boy. “Each time you want me to sing, you will have to say the Hail Mary!” “But…but…” stuttered Gaspard, completely upset.
“You are a rascally boy to force a poor old man to pray, and dig like that in an old hurt, you know nothing about!” But Songboy saw the power he had over the poor old stone grinder’s heart and would not let him be. “I know no longer know how to pray…let me be!” Gaspard cried desperately. “I am going to show you! Come, Gaspard, say after me: Hail Mary, full of grace…!”
Grouchy old Gaspard, shamefully, began to mutter, “Hail Mary, full of grace…” then he rushed into the cottage and slammed the door. Grace was again beginning to work in his heart, and he did not want to let Songboy see him weeping.
But Songboy demanded that old Gaspard do the same again the next day. The old man gave in more gracefully. Day by day, the Hail Marys came more easily and more gratefully. And Songboy put a new note of gladness in the songs he sang for Gaspard.
Time passed, and one day Songboy came bursting with the news that in a very short while, on the next Feast of the Blessed Virgin, he was to make his First Holy Communion. He begged his old friend to say three Hail Marys in honour of the news, and sang his best song to the Blessed Virgin. Old Gaspard leaned back on his seat against the wall of his cottage, closed his eyes and let the memories sail again across his mind like fluffy clouds across a blue sky.
Then one day, Songboy ceased to come. The old stone grinder waited through the long days, wondering and worrying. A hundred times he looked from his door down the path towards the village. He tried to forget, to shut out the boy from his mind, regretful that he had emerged from the dull comfort of his isolation only to become sorely wounded by a new separation. He wanted to shut out the world as never before, and return to his old bitterness. But as he treddled his grindstone fiercely, he found himself muttering Hail Marys as the stone spun, and the sparks flew from the steel.
A knock came at the door; a woman stood there, her face full of sorrow. “My boy”, she said, “My poor sick boy. He is asking for you. Come, it will make him feel better.” It was Songboy’s mother.
Without a word, Gaspard left his cottage and went to the miller’s house. The women led him up to the attic room. Songboy was terribly sick indeed. The boy looked as if he would soon die. His cheeks were pale, his eyes gloomy and he had a terrible fever! Gaspard fell on his knees at the bed and grasped the boy’s hot hand in his own.
“I’m dying, dying, murmured Songboy feebly. Gaspard, you can do something! I want you to do something!”
“What can I do Songboy. I am an old man, nobody’s friend, no good to anybody!”
Songboy hung on to Gaspard’s old shirt. “The Blessed Virgin, can make me well!” he gasped. “But you must go and ask her! Go to the church Gaspard, kneel before her statue and tell her you’ll come back to Church! The Blessed Virgin will not refuse you. I shall get better then. I shall come to watch you grind and I’ll sing for you again!”
Gaspard was already clattering down the stairs. Soon he was on his knees before the little porcelain Madonna of Marilot in her cloak trimmed with lilies, pouring out his heart, weeping for his sins, and begging for the life of Songboy. Then a wonderful miracle happened. Songboy was cured! The Virgin Mary cured him!
On the Feast of Mary, Mediatrix of All Graces, the villagers of Marilot saw something beautiful. Side by side at the communion rail knelt the miller’s boy and the old stone grinder, faces uplifted, waiting for the Bread of Life. It was Songboy’s First Communion, and Gaspard’s first real joy for many a long year.
Old Gaspard was truly converted. He loved Our Lady very much now; he became one of her great lovers. He loved to go in processions with the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary singing hymns as little girls scattered flowers in the path of the little Madonna of Marilot carried by four stout fishermen. The End
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