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Greater Things The Story Of Saint Stanislaus Kostka by William T. Kane

CHAPTER VII THE TEST OF COURAGE

Paul was the worst at this teasing; nor did it stop at mere teasing. He was not a really bad fellow, but he was selfish, set upon having his own will in everything, and had a very quick and fierce temper. Stanislaus' quiet refusal to join in the noisy revels of himself and his companions, his unaffected piety, his long hours of prayer, were things he could not understand. They seemed a sort of standing rebuke to him, and they constantly nettled him. Of course he sought reasons to justify himself, as we all do when we are in the wrong. When they were alone, he and Bilinski fell to scolding Stanislaus.

|You shame us!| Paul would cry. |You do not act like a nobleman, but like some boorish peasant.|

Then Stanislaus would be troubled. He knew he was in the right. He simply could not stand the free ways and freer speech of Paul and his companions. But how could he justify himself? How could he defend his own position without at least seeming to attack his brother's? And that last he would never do. S6metimes he tried to smooth matters over by saying:

|We take different ways, Paul. I do not condemn yours. Why not let me alone in mine?|

But oftenest he could only smile and say nothing. And whether he answered or kept silence, Paul was sure to grow more irritated. Then Bilinski tried to exert his authority.

|Your father gave you into my charge,| he would say. |I order you to act like the rest of us and not make yourself odd and shame us by your conduct.|

But Stanislaus knew well enough what were the limits of Bilinski's authority and he was not at all the sort of boy to be easily bullied by a mere assumption of authority that did not exist.

The result always was that Stanislaus continued to do what his own conscience urged him to do, and that Bilinski and Paul felt helpless in the face of his quiet, fearless persistence. And that made them the more vexed with him. They nicknamed him |The Jesuit,| they mimicked him, they sneered at him. He had a pretty hot temper himself, but he kept himself well in hand, and was always kind and pleasant with these cross-grained comrades. He was not the least bit afraid. Whenever he thought that speaking would do any good, he spoke up without hesitation. Many a time, when Paul taunted him with acting in a way to bring discredit upon his name, he answered:

|No man shames his name by trying to please God. As for what men may think or say, that does not matter much. Do you think we shall bother much about that in eternity?|

There were two cousins of theirs who often stayed with the Kostkas; one of them was also called Stanislaus, the other, who afterwards rose to high rank in his native country, was named Rozrarewski. These sided with Paul and did their best to help him in making Stanislaus' life miserable.

It was not long before Paul went on from words to blows. One day Stanislaus quietly tried to answer some of Paul's sneers. Paul sprang at him in a rage and, striking out savagely, knocked him down. Bilinski interfered, and when he had drawn off Paul, proceeded to scold Stanislaus as being the cause of all the trouble. Such meanness and injustice must have made the boy's blood boil. But he mastered himself and said nothing.

That afternoon Paul was going out riding. He could not find his spurs. |Take mine,| said Stanislaus, pleasantly, as if nothing had happened. And Paul took them, a little ashamed, saying to himself:

|He's a decent little beggar, after all - if only he weren't so insufferably pious!|

But Paul, though he might be touched for the moment by his brother's readiness to forgive, continued to grow even more irritated with him. Many and many a time he struck Stanislaus; and often, after knocking him down, kicked him and then tramped on him. And Bilinski always took the same line, trying to make peace by blaming everything on Stanislaus.

Now Stanislaus was very nearly Paul's equal in size, and easily his match in strength. He lived simply and frugally, kept himself in condition, did not over-eat and over-drink as Paul did. He could, without much difficulty, have met Paul's brutality in kind, and very likely have given him a good beating. And he knew well enough that if he did so, Paul would let him alone. For when was there ever a bully who was not also a coward?

And you may be sure he felt like doing it. He was in the right, and knew he was. He was high-spirited and utterly without fear. And yet he never even defended himself. lie let Paul bully him and beat him. He endured to have himself looked upon as a coward - although you may observe that all the time he did not budge an inch from the line of conduct he had chosen. And why? Well, for a lot of reasons.

In the first place, he kept saying to himself, |What difference does it make for eternity? Then, he knew his own high temper and he would not let himself go, for fear he should commit a sin - and he hated sin with all his soul.

And then he recalled what our Lord had suffered for him, and he said:

|If you will give me the courage to stand it, I'll be glad, Lord, to suffer this much for You.|

And that last was the reason why, in the midst of this real persecution, he never lost his cheerfulness. More than that, he never missed a chance to do Paul and his friends a good turn. He said:

|When men were treating our Lord worst, even killing Him, that was when He was opening heaven for them. And I'm sure He would like me to be kind as He was kind to those who treated Him meanly.|

He did what he could to avoid annoying Paul. He kept out of everybody's way when he wanted to pray. He used to wait at night till the others were asleep, for they all slept in one great room together, and then slip out of bed and on to his knees. Sometimes his cousins, thinking it a great joke, would pretend to stumble over him in the half-dark, and kick him as hard as they could.

And this went on for two years. He could have stopped the whole matter with no trouble at all, by simply writing to his father. But he never so much as hinted to any one at home of the way Paul and Bilinski and his cousins treated him. He was as plucky as he was gentle and forgiving. Although, for good reasons, he would not quarrel, he had the tenacity of a bull-dog, he held on to the hard purpose he had formed and nothing could beat him off.

And that is the very highest sort of courage, the courage that endures, that has no show or heroics about it. Again I say, if he had done all this, put up with all this, to gain riches, to make a name for himself, the world would understand and would praise him tremendously. It is his motive that leaves the world cold, it is the source and reason of his courage that the world cannot understand.

Yet he was not obstinate and pig-headed, bound to do as he wished just because he wished it. No, he was very sensible and did everything with reason. He would not stop saying his prayers when Bilinski and Paul objected, he would not join in gay dinners and drinking-bouts and gambling, he would not sit and smile at shady stories or smutty wit. He would no? do anything his conscience forbade. But he was most ready to do anything else they wanted.

For instance, he had been used to give his rich clothes away to the poor, and dress very simply. Bilinski and Paul insisted on his dressing as became his rank, and he yielded readily. Bilinski wanted him to take dancing lessons, and he took them, and learned to dance very well. He was not keen about any of these things, because he reckoned they would not count for much in eternity. But neither was he foolish, nor a fanatic, nor one who saw evil where no evil was. He was simply a level-headed boy, who figured out the business of life clearly and convincingly, and who had the courage of a hero in living up to his convictions.

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