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The Story of St Bride
The Handmaid of the Inn

A decree had gone out from Caesar Augustus, and the little city was full. A great drought held the land in its parched grip and the innkeeper must needs make his way to the well that is beside the gate, there to bide his time. He left Bride but a stoup of water and a bannock for her use, and till his coming back no further traveler must be admitted to the caravanserai.

The twilight deepened into the dusk of an Eastern night, lit with a glory of twinkling stars, and a golden planet hung low upon the horizon. Palms and cypresses rose out of the barren sand, and beyond, the roofs and domes of the town glimmered white in the stillness.

There entered slowly into the courtyard an old man with hair and beard yet brown, and with mild eyes in which there brooded wondering joy and great awe. In one hand he grasped his pilgrim’ staff, and by the other he led a mule on which was seated a woman. He asked for food and shelter, but Bride could give naught but the provision which was hers, and guide them to the shed where meek oxen lay. There was no more room for them in the Inn. Then she returned to her post and fell into a deep sleep, but when she awoke it seemed to her that as from a distance she heard a rapture of music ineffable, as when the morning stars sung together and all the sons of God shouted with joy. A dazzling radiance shone above the stable door, a glory exceeding the glory of sunset or of dawn. Trembling, she entered the lowly rockhewn byre, and fell upon her face in adoration, for there was that Blessed One she had seen in a vision of her childhood as she gazed into the cool depths of the fountain of youth. In that instant her memory returned to an Island set in western seas, where on the horizon dim enchanted Isles lie shadowy, and the winds blow out of an unknown past.

Often through her slumbers there had floated the song the white merle sang in the branches of the quicken tree beside the spring, while that form in which the perfect ideal of womanhood was revealed, whose innocence and loveliness no painter has ever succeeded in portraying, had haunted her waking dreams.

The Babe slept and gently bending, Bride received Him from the arms of the Blessed among women, and wrapped Him in her mantle, for the breeze would come chill with the dawning. Then sprinkling on his head three drops of water, she, too, fell asleep.

(Taken from “A Guide to Douglas Landmarks in Scotland” Castles, Abbeys and Battles.

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