THE SAINT AND THE GOBLIN

The little stone Saint occupied a retired niche in a side

aisle of the old cathedral. No one quite remembered who he

had been, but that in a way was a guarantee of

respectability. At least so the Goblin said. The Goblin

was a very fine specimen of quaint stone carving, and lived

up in the corbel on the wall opposite the niche of the

little Saint. He was connected with some of the best

cathedral folk, such as the queer carvings in the choir

stalls and chancel screen, and even the gargoyles high up on

the roof. All the fantastic beasts and manikins that

sprawled and twisted in wood or stone or lead overhead in

the arches or away down in the crypt were in some way akin

to him; consequently he was a person of recognized

importance in the cathedral world.

The little stone Saint and the Goblin got on very well

together, though they looked at most things from different

points of view. The Saint was a philanthropist in an

old-fashioned way; he thought the world, as he saw it, was

good, but might be improved. In particular he pitied the

church mice, who were miserably poor. The Goblin, on the

other hand, was of opinion that the world, as he knew it,

was bad, but had better be let alone. It was the function

of the church mice to be poor.

“All the same,” said the Saint, “I feel very sorry for

them.”

“Of course you do,” said the Goblin; “it’s your

function to feel sorry for them. If they were to leave off

being poor you couldn’t fulfil your functions. You’d be a

sinecure.”

He rather hoped that the Saint would ask him what a

sinecure meant, but the latter took refuge in a stony

silence. The Goblin might be right, but still, he thought,

he would like to do something for the church mice before

winter came on; they were so very poor.

Whilst he was thinking the matter over he was startled by

something falling between his feet with a hard metallic

clatter. It was a bright new thaler; one of the cathedral

jackdaws, who collected such things, had flown in with it to

a stone cornice just above his niche, and the banging of the

sacristy door had startled him into dropping it. Since the

invention of gun powder the family nerves were not what they

had been.

“What have you got there?” asked the Goblin.

“A silver thaler,” said the Saint. “Really,’ he

continued, “it is most fortunate; now I can do something

for the church mice.”

“How will you manage it?” asked the Goblin.

The Saint considered.

“I will appear in a vision to the vergeress who sweeps

the floors. I will tell her that she will find a silver

thaler between my feet, and that she must take it and buy a

measure of corn and put it on my shrine. When she finds the

money she will know that it was a true dream, and she will

take care to follow my directions. Then the mice will have

food all winter.”

“Of course you can do that,” observed the Goblin. “Now,

I can only appear to people after they have had a heavy

supper of indigestible things. My opportunities with the

vergeress would be limited. There is some advantage in

being a saint after all.”

All this while the coin was lying at the Saint’s feet. It

was clean and glittering and had the Elector’s arms

beautifully stamped upon it. The Saint began to reflect

that such an opportunity was too rare to be hastily disposed

of. Perhaps indiscriminate charity might be harmful to the

church mice. After all, it was their function to be poor;

the Goblin had said so, and the Goblin was generally right.

“I’ve been thinking,” he said to that personage, “that

perhaps it would be really better if I ordered a thaler’s

worth of candles to be placed on my shrine instead of the

corn.”

He often wished, for the look of the thing, that people

would sometimes burn candles at his shrine; but as they had

forgotten who he was it was not considered a profitable

speculation to pay him that attention.

“Candles would be more orthodox,” said the Goblin.

“More orthodox, certainly,’ agreed the Saint, “and the

mice could have the ends to eat; candle-ends are most

fattening.”

The Goblin was too well bred to wink; besides, being a

stone goblin, it was out of the question.

*

“Well, if it ain’t there, sure enough!” said the

vergeress next morning. She took the shining coin down from

the gusty niche and turned it over and over in her grimy

hands. Then she put it to her mouth and bit it.

“She can’t be going to eat it,” thought the Saint, and

fixed her with his stoniest stare.

“Well,’ said the woman, in a somewhat shriller key,

“who’d have thought it! A saint, too!”

Then she did an unaccountable thing. She hunted an old

piece of tape out of her pocket, and tied it crosswise, with

a big loop, round the thaler, and hung it round the neck of

the little Saint.

Then she went away.

“The only possible explanation,” said the Goblin, “is

that it’s a bad one.”

*

“What is that decoration your neighbour is wearing?”

asked a wyvern that was wrought into the capital of an

adjacent pillar.

The Saint was ready to cry with mortification, only, being

of stone, he couldn’t.

“It’s a coin of—ahem—fabulous value,” replied the

Goblin tactfully.

And the news went round the Cathedral that the shrine of

the little stone Saint had been enriched by a priceless

offering.

“After all, it’s something to have the conscience of a

goblin,” said the Saint to himself.

The church mice were as poor as ever. But that was their

function.