For a hundred and one years, Count William the Short-nosed, who held Orange, Nîmes, Tortelose, and Porpaillart-sur-mer, lived together with the beautiful Guibor, until that fair-faced lady died. During her life she had suffered many pains, but she had also experienced many a joy. Lord William had seen all his desires achieved after he had made peace with King Thibaut. Afterward, he ruled in peace over his inheritance which extended to the sea. He was so feared by the pagans that they trembled at the sound of his name. He held his woods, his fields, and all his lands in peace.
At last at Nîmes Lady Guibor was taken by an illness from which she could not recover. William, her ladies, and her relatives were all there. The lady summoned Count William and he came; he could not refuse her. “What do you wish, lady, by holy charity?” he asked
“I will tell you, in the name of God,” she said. “I am very ill; I feel that I will not escape again. We have seen many beautiful days together; now I pray you, in the name of God, to forgive me if I ever did wrong to you, either in words or in thought.”
William answered her, “May God forgive you as I have forgiven you. You will take away all my happiness when you leave here here. It is already a heavy burden to lose you.”
“Listen,” she responded. “Give my jewels to my ladies, and distribute my treasures to nuns, monks, and priests who serve God, and have me given the Last Rites.”
“It will be so,” replied the count.
He called for the clergy, who gladly came there, and they gave her the Last Rites, whereupon the lady sighed and commended William to God’s care. She never spoke another word. Count William wept with sadness for the lady who had left this world.
They carried the body to the church: the priests chanted the service. There was a large offering, and after the Mass they buried her. Count William spent the whole day in tears and despair. At last, when night came, he went to bed.
God, Who did not want to be forgotten, sent him an angel to tell him of His will: that he had to go to the monastery at Aniane.
When the good count heard these words, he dared not disobey. He commended his vassals to God, gave his lands to his godson, and did homage and fealty to him. When he had done this, he mounted his horse, with his good sword at his left side. He did not forget his good shield; he was armed with all his weapons.
Alone, without any companion, without friend or servant, he left the town and took the road to Brioude. Having arrived there, he dismounted, entered the church of St. Julian, and prayed. William raised his hand and wiped his face; he knelt and faced the image: “St. Julian, I put myself under your care. I left my land, my castle, my cities, all my inheritance for the service of God. Saint Julian! I entrust you with my shield; I put it under your care, by such an agreement that if Louis, son of Charles, or my godson who holds my land, need to defend themselves against the pagans, the filthy savage people, I will take it up once more. I promise to pay you all my life a fee of three gold bezants at Christmas and Easter.”
The count took the shield by its brocade belt and put it on the marble altar. There it still lies, and all those who go to Saint-Gilles can see it with their own eyes. After that William mounted his horse once more, left the city, and began his journey.
He took the road to find the abbey about which the angel had told him. He did not delay but went right to the entrance of the monastery. He went to the altar, where he put all his weapons since he did would not fight any more – at least not unless Louis had some great need of him against the Saracens, whom he still hated.
Then he went into the cloister and, without hesitation, presented himself to the abbot. “May God protect you, Abbot! I’ve been looking for you.”
The abbot recognized him immediately and made him sit down at his side. He asked him, “Sir William, what are you seeking here?”
“I do not want to hide anything from you,” said the count. “An angel of God sent me, ordered me to come here and become a monk. Receive me; it will be a great act of charity.”
“With pleasure, sir,” replied the abbot. “You will become a monk, for I think the chapter will not refuse you. You have killed and put to death many men. I cannot refuse you penance for your sins, of which you have committed twenty thousand. You will be a monk, buried in martyrdom. Tell me, do you know how to sing and to read?”
“Yes, provided I don’t have to look in a book. But you will be my master, and you know how to write on parchment and wax tablets.”
Hearing this, the abbot began to laugh, and with him all the monks of the chapter. “Sir William,” he said, “you are a valiant knight. God help me, we will teach you to read your psalter and to chant Matins and Tierce, Nones and Vespers and Compline. And when you become a priest, you will read the gospel and you will sing the Mass.”
“By God! Good sir,” said the count, “make me a monk, ordain me, give me a tonsure!”
“By St. Peter of Rome!” replied the abbot, “you will have it before we chant the office of Nones. The chapter will not stop me.” He took scissors and gave him a tonsure. After he had shaved him, the abbot called a monk and said to him, “Go and find me a black habit, and a stole, the yoke and the garment for under it, and the rich cloak that my cousin brought from Spain.”
They brought the habit and the abbot gave it to William. The count put it on. And although it was very large, it was still half an ell too short.
Count William sat in the cloister: he had a great tonsure which the abbot had made for him, and the cloak that he put on him was short, and the abbot laughed, and the other monks laughed too. Each looked at him and rejoiced with him. God protect him!
“You are now a monk, in the name of God,” the abbot told him. “Love us and honor us, and all our monks will hold you as a lord.”
“Never fear,” replied William. “But recommend to all, great and small, that they treat me well and do not make me angry, because I would treat the most exalted of them in a manner that would make him say he entered the monastery on an evil day.” William stayed in the order for many days, and he lived a holy life.
The count became a monk, he took the habit; he eagerly assisted with the divine service and did not miss any office, neither Mass nor Matins, nor Tierce or Nones or Vespers.
However, the other monks envied him. They said to each other, “Our abbot did the Devil’s work when he received this man in the abbey.
“Was there ever a man whom it cost so much to keep! When they give us one little loaf and a half, he gets three, and even that’s not enough for him. Such a man causes great problems in an abbey. May God curse whoever sent him here, because he will bring shame on us all. When we have five ells of cloth for our habits, he needs twelve for it, with hood, coat, and cloak beyond! He only fasts from midday to Nones; in the morning he has to have three big loaves of bread and he doesn’t leave a crust! When we have beans, he wants the whole plate, and he takes the fish and the good wine. He empties a huge pint without leaving a drop, and when he’s drunk he runs after us to beat us. He spares us no shame.”
As soon as the monks went into their chapter, they began to speak of William. They said to each other, “Woe is us! If he lives much longer, we will die from hunger.”
The abbot having suddenly appeared, he said, “Lords, I see you are very upset. Are you talking about William Short-Nose, who has caused us so much trouble?”
“We can’t suffer him any longer, nor endure his behavior. When we talk, it makes him angry, and he falls on us and scatters us with punches. And those punches are really terrible, because his fists are so big that he could easily kill a man. So when he gets in a rage, we all tremble and no one dares to say a word.”
Scarcely were these words uttered when the abbot’s cellarer arrived, barely able to stand with a stick; he could not walk, so badly had William beaten him.
“For God’s sake, Lord Abbot,” he cried, “I’ve come to complain to you about your monk, may God confound him! Up until now I’ve worn the keys and I’ve guarded your property, but now the devil is in charge. Yesterday I was healthy, and today I feel like I’m dying, and that’s because there’s a deranged monk! When he had gone some time without eating, he came to the storeroom and soon opened it: with a kick he knocked down the door. Then he grabbed the wine and food and stole as much as he could take. He struck anyone who tried to defend against him, or threw him against the walls with a kick. Yesterday Lord William Short-Nose took a fancy to ask me for wine, and I was crazy enough to deny him. I wish I had been a thousand miles away! He made me pay dearly for that denial; he jumped on me, assailed me with blows, and knocked me so hard against a pillar that I can’t walk except with crutches. The other monks saw me being abused, but not one dared to defend me. Woe to the monk who is afraid to do that!”
“Here are my thoughts,” said the abbot. “If you all will trust me, there is a way to punish William so that he will be wounded and cut up. Send him to the sea to buy us some fish. He can bring them back to us on two horses. We will give him some money and have him followed by a servant to drive and load the horses. Before their return, they’ll be attacked, taken prisoner or killed, and we will be delivered; on that road there are bandits who live by robbing people and who don’t let anyone pass without attacking them.
“We will have him take his good horse, which the thieves will want to steal from him; he will not want to endure that. He is so fierce that he will throw himself at them and the thieves will soon cut him into pieces. We will be delivered from him forever. And if he comes back, we’ll talk about it.”
“So be it!” said the monks. “Let’s do this immediately.”
They sent for William and he ran in without waiting.
“Lord Abbot,” he said, “what do you want with me? All these monks are looking at me as I come in; but by the Apostle, if they give me the slightest reason for annoyance, I’ll put them on the ground so they won’t want to chant Matins, or else they will do my will.”
When the monks heard that, they began to tremble, and said to each other, “We’ve come upon a misfortune. If he lives any longer, we’ll all die!”
The abbot spoke: “William, listen: if you want to do as you are commanded, the whole chapter will be grateful to you.”
“Yes, my lord,” replied William, “I promise in the name of God.”
“Sir William,” said the abbot, “listen: you will go to the sea to buy some fish; we will give you the money to pay for it, and two packhorses, led by a servant, to carry your purchases. But there is one thing I do not want to hide, because in chapter one must not shy away from the truth: you will pass through the woods of Beaucler, where there are dangerous thieves who rob people. No man, be he clerk, priest, or tonsured monk, passes without being attacked. If they want to take your horse, or even the clothes you wear, Sir William, comfort yourself, but do not think to fight.”
“God!” said William, “I never heard such a thing. I have never been involved in trade, or sold or bought anything. And as for thieves, if they want to steal from me, I’ll put them to death.”
“Hush,” said the abbot, “chase these thoughts away; you are a blessed and consecrated monk and you may not fight with a blade.”
“God,” replied William, “so I’m to be abused and die a shameful death?! By God, Lord Abbot, if they take my horse… There isn’t a better one under the yoke of heaven for carrying a knight into battle. When you prick him with steel spurs, he surpasses the speed of a falcon or hawk. On him I killed Aerofle the proud: I cut off his head with a sword… If they take my horse from me, I feel I will become enraged.”
“Give him to them voluntarily: if they take him from you, do not get upset. You may not fight.”
William said, “And if they take my gloves?”
The abbot said, “Put a good face on it, give them to them freely with a laugh.”
“To the contrary,” William replied, “I will be very flustered, and, by the apostle whom penitents seek, before giving my gloves up, they will all die by my hand… And if they take my boots, my robe, my tunic, my robe, must I suffer all that, and let myself be beaten? Oh, to be beaten, that’s an ugly thing, and if I endure it let my throat be cursed! If the thieves take my clothes, I promise you by St. Peter, I’ll hang them. And what if they take my breeches?”
“Indeed,” conceded the abbot, “that would be an ugly thing and would well displease you. Defend yourself, and do them all the harm you can, but use nothing but flesh and bone.”
William said, “I like that. I’m glad you allow me that. And I promise you, on the body of St. Hilaire, that if they do anything I can be unhappy about, they will find me dreadful. It will be shameful if they make me take off my breeches, and before they do, more than one thief will cry for mercy, if God gives me my arms.”
Count William, when he heard the lord abbot’s explanation, rejoiced that he could fight for his breeches. He went to the town and had a belt made out of the best fabric he could find. He ordered a goldsmith to enrich it with gold Byzantine coins and with buttons of the same metal, and the straps were very valuable. There was a buckle that alone cost him more than a hundred sous.
And when the count had received his belt, he attached it to his breeches, saying, “Belt, you are precious, you cost me a pretty penny. Whoever sees you, by the body of St. Richer, if he sets himself to coveting you and wants to take you from my breeches, he will pay dearly!”
Then he came to the abbot and said, “Lord, I’m on my way, and if the thieves attack me and want to strip me of my clothes, in order to obey you I will let hem; I will even let them take my horse. But this belt that I’ve had made, if they want to take that from me, they’ll find me fierce. Whoever dares to approach me will pay dearly: he’ll feel my right fist on his head, to make his brains leap. This will be a lesson for the others.”
The abbot crossed himself at these words, and more than one monk whispered to his neighbor, “By St. Denis! This man is mad. If the bandits can’t punish him, we’ve done badly.”
Count William asked for leave to go, and the abbot gave it to him. He also gave gave him more than ten livres to buy fish; then he made ready his two pack horses and a servant to lead them. The count mounted his horse and left the cloister without stopping.
The other monks, when they saw him leave, commended him to the devil. If Lord William the valiant had known, he would have made them pay dearly.
The noble man walked straight in his path following the two packhorses; he prayed to Jesus in His glory that He would allow him to return safe and sound.
Soon he came to the woods of Beaucler – but as for thieves, he didn’t encounter a single one. He passed through and soon reached the sea. Immediately, he began to buy his fish: pike and beautiful salmons, sturgeons and eels. Then he opened his trunk, and found counting the pennies so tedious that he tossed out them out by the handful.
“There is a good monk,” the fishmongers said to each other. “Blessed be whoever sent him here. If there were many men like him, we would be rich before the end of the month. He doesn’t ask how much the wheat costs, provided that it fills the stomach.”
Count William did not chat with them, he did not want to come near the common people; but that night he was housed well, he had enough fish for his dinner, and did not forget the wine. He did not want to bring back any of his pennies. He spent the night in great ease and rested until the next day.
The count mounted his horse, had his packhorses loaded, and started for the abbey. Arriving in the woods of Beaucler, he met no more thieves than he had the first time.
When they were in the middle of the forest, Count William, who was noble and valiant, said to his servant, “Friend, dear brother, do you know how to sing anything? Don’t be afraid of the thieves, do you think I can’t defend you?”
The servant heard him and began to sing loudly:
Do you want to hear about lord Thibaut l’Escler,
And about William, the count with the short nose,
How he took the city of Orange,
And took Guibor for his wife and companion,
And took Gloriette, the princely palace…
Here he interrupted himself, and said to William, “My lord, I can’t sing any more, because this is where the thieves usually stay, the ones who live by robbing people. If they see us, we can’t escape; neither bishop nor abbot nor clerk nor priest nor tonsured monk will preserve us from being cut to pieces.”
“Don’t be afraid, and don’t stop singing on account of the robbers,” replied William. “If they come, I know how to defend you. But devils must have taken them away, because I can’t see any of them.”
At these words the servant began to sing, so loudly that his voice resounded through the forest.
He was heard by five robbers, who found themselves not far from there and who were about to sit down to dinner. They had come from pillaging a monastery, where they had strangled the laymen and stolen the gowns and money.
“I hear a troubadour,” said one of them. “Listen how he sings about William with the short nose!”
“Bring him here,” said their chief. “If he’s carrying something on him, he won’t escape us.”
“Boss,” replied the first, “let him be. No one should hurt troubadours; on the contrary, all honest men should love them, give them money and clothing and a good meal.”
“That’s craziness,” the chief said. “Since he came here, he must pay for it. Before he’s out of our hands, he’ll be sorry he was ever born.”
They jumped to their feet, took their weapons, and went down the path, not stopping until they reached William. When they saw him, they let out a cry so terrible that the packhorses were afraid and the count himself could feel his heart pounding.
“Stop there, monk! You will not escape us. If you take one more step, you’ll be cut to bits.”
“What do you want with me?” asked William. “If you hurt us, you will gain nothing; you will be excommunicated by our lord abbot, by the Pope, and the whole Church.”
“You’re crazy,” said the bandit chief. “We don’t give a fig for a clerk or a priest, a bishop or an abbot. You are too rich and you have too much property. You would do better to give it all to the poor and follow a better way of life. Don’t think about anything but chanting your Matins, and let us take care of the robbing and pillaging. You won’t take away a penny of all the goods you’ve brought here.”
They mobbed the servant, threw him to the ground, tied his hands and feet, and flipped him into a ditch. Then they turned towards the count, crying, “Monk, you are taken!”
May God protect him, of His goodness! He will need it. The robbers are ferocious. They grab him by the bridle so that he doesn’t escape, pushing and pulling.
“That monk is huge!” said one of them.
“He looks fierce,” said another. “Look how his eyes roll. If he gets upset, we’ll be sorry.”
“His gloves are richly rimmed in gold,” said a third. “I don’t want anything but that from him.” And he ordered the monk to take them off.
“Here you are,” William answered, “I give them to you, not without pain, but I see well enough that I won’t be allowed to pass without doing it. If you set me free without asking anything else of me, by God Who hears me it will be to your advantage.”
“Shut up,” replied the chief of the band. “You won’t carry away all your possessions with you for the value of a mere glove.”
“Believe me,” said William, “this is a great sin that you are committing.”
They demanded his tunic off his back, and his wool shirt and his hood, and he gave it to them without resistance, and got back on his horse with his body naked. But he said to himself, “I’m a fool. This is too much, by the faith that I owe to St. Paul. I should have killed four or five of them already.”
Lord William was still ahorse, all naked and poor, having no robe and wearing only his breeches, his stockings, and his boots, and the thieves still surrounded him and held the horse by the bridle so he could not escape.
“Thieves,” he said to them, “you are scum. You will be hanged on an evil gallows yet; and it will be soon if I manage to get away from you.”
The chief of the band began to swear: “By my chin and throat! By St. Liénar, whom they seek at Limoges! You will give us your horse and your boots, and even your stockings!”
The count dismounted. “Look,” he said, “by St. Peter the Apostle, it seems to me that I no longer have anything to pay you, besides the breeches covering my flanks, and this belt”
“Give it to us right now.”
“By the oath I made to our order! It’s worth more than the rest put together. You can take it if you want, but I will not give it to you. Lord Robber,” said William with the fierce face, “see what a superb belt it is? From here to Montpellier there isn’t such a good one, with gold bands and such pure gold buttons. He who will have it should know the price: it hasn’t even been two days since I bought it for more than seven livres. If you attach so much value to it that you do not want to let me keep it, come closer. May God confound my head if I give it to you, for everyone would reproach me. But if you want it, come and take it.”
The leader of the gang, having noticed the fine stones and the shining gold of the belt, swore by God that he would not let the monk keep it. He knelt to unbuckle it; he wanted to take it out of William’s breeches.
When the count saw this, he became angry. “Oh, God!” he said. “Now I can get upset: who do these greedy wretches take me for, that they don’t even want to leave me my breeches? I see now that a prayer would do nothing; may God confound me if I don’t punish them!”
Anyone who had seen him raise his head, grit his teeth, and change his color would have had a good right to be afraid. “God,” said William, “it is against my will, because I found no mercy or compassion from them. But the abbot, our master, said that I could only get angry if I found a man who wanted to take my breeches and to take my belt away by force. If I wait any longer, better not to have been born, because they are wicked and perverse.”
He raised his fist, and gave such a blow to the robber’s face that he broke his neck in two and dropped him dead on the ground. Count William angrily raised his right fist and did the same to another robber whom he found in front of him. He seized two in his two hands and struck them so hard together that their skulls were crushed. He gave a fifth such a blow that his brains spilled out. With his right fist he struck another in the chest, so that he crushed his stomach. He took the seventh by the hair, swung him around three times, and smashed him against an oak, crushing him. Then he said, “When that one gets up, he won’t want to sing. He was crazy to take my breeches from me. I’ve never heard of stealing breeches. If anyone else wants them, let him come: and he’ll carry the mark of my fist so he will never again rob me or other people on this road.”
When the robbers heard this, they were all terrified. “It’s the devil in person!” they cried. “If he continues, none of us will escape.” They rallied themselves and threw their spears, but God saved him and they did not succeed.
When the count saw this, he cried to God: “As You truly built the heavens, protect my body, Lord! God, as You are true, protect my body from against these wicked thieves! Our blessed abbot committed a great sin when he sent me here so poorly equipped, without my hauberk, my Viennese blade, my helmet, and my Turkish sword. If there had been fifty-three of these cursed brigands, they would all be dead. I see several good Viennese blades lying here, but I won’t take any of them, because it is forbidden to me. The abbot said in chapter that I may not defend myself except with flesh and bone for weapons.”
Turning his head, the count saw that one of the packhorses loaded with fish was near him. He tore off its haunch and leg, and brandishing this weapon he advanced on the bandits. The first he hit so hard that he struck him a death blow, and then the nobleman did the same to another and then the third, and spared none. He killed three of the greedy villains.
Thus the valiant count soon killed them all. Not one remained on his feet, and so the road was freed: now poor people there will be robbed no longer.
Then, glancing at the poor packhorse from which he took the haunch and leg, Count William took pity. “God,” said the count, “by Your holy pity, heal this wounded horse, so that it will be safe and sound and healthy.” He back the haunch in the place from which he had ripped it, and at the prayer of the good count God did a great miracle. When the count finished his prayer, the good horse was immediately healed.
Then Count William looked back and saw his servant down in the ditch where the robbers had thrown him. The count immediately pulled him out, and said to him, “Friend, dear brother, do you see all these horses, chestnut and piebald and black and spotted? There are fifteen. I have counted them. Take the best and lead the others.”
The servant said, “Gladly, in the name of God.” He took them, and they stayed no longer; they took the road together back to the abbey.
Count William gathered together his fish, and he didn’t leave any of the horses. They went forth from the woods to the abbey.
Three monks waited above the gate, which they had locked. Seeing William come by the road, they got down and immediately ran to the abbot to tell him this news. “William arrives, followed by several horses, both packhorses and warhorses from Orkney.”
“God and the Blessed Virgin aid us!” said the abbot. “He cannot have won all these riches without having committed murders, and plundered a monastery or an abbey! Keep the door closed. I do not care about his craziness. This time, he will not enter.”
“In the name of God, Lord Abbot, stay firm! For if he comes back, he will insult us and beat us again.”
However, there is William at the door, and the servant began to cry, “Open the door and come get the fruits of our fishing and all these horses! The abbey will be rich, and solely because of William. Certainly, he has earned his board, and for his whole life.”
The monks heard him but did not answer: they had hoped that he would not come back. Finally they replied in a shrill voice: “Stay there! You shall not enter here because you are highwaymen!”
Valiant William walked towards the door, but the porter had shut and locked and strongly closed it against him. William yelled and told him, “Open the door, God confound your throat! Come take the fish I have on these packhorses. There are pike and shad, good trout with big heads, beautiful sturgeon and magnificent salmon.”
The porter said, “By the Apostle Peter, this time you will not enter; the abbot himself has closed it against you.”
“God,” said William, “cursed be the order whose monks make me enter by force. But, by the faith which I owe St. Joseph, if I can get in, by love or by force, all the monks will pay dearly for it. God, Who is in charge of everything, counsel me by Your goodness! I intended to stay with these monks. Evil on the abbot if he won’t let me enter! I know they made me go so that the thieves would mistreat me, but glorious God let me escape. Now I know I can find no mercy here, nor enter by request.”
His heart began to beat hard in his chest; all his blood boiled with anger. He saw near him a huge beam that four peasants could barely have raised. He seized it and ran with it at the door, against which he gave such a blow that the whole cloister resounded with it. From a league around you could hear the noise of his blows.
The door fell to the ground: locks and hinges broke, the door gave way, and the bar killed the porter. The monks all ran at once and hid in their cells. William the valiant came into the cloister and began to yell at the monks.
He found ten of them, who had not had time to flee, in his way. He trampled them underfoot, seized them by their capes and rained down a hail of punches on them. He lifted one, turned him three times around and on the fourth let him go and threw him so violently against a pillar that his eyes jumped from his head. Then he cried, “Come talk to me!” and with a kick he struck at the abbot. The abbot fell unconscious in the middle of the cloister.
The other monks turned away. He rushed into the cloister in pursuit of those who had fled; he went from the kitchen to the dormitory, and no door stayed closed before him. All the monks fled his rage: he took many by the hair and hit them against each other. He beat them so badly that they were bewildered.
At last the unfortunate monks found themselves in the church, and said to each other, “Woe is us! We have to beg him for mercy, or we will be martyred.” They appealed to William, threw themselves at his feet, and all cried out to him for mercy, even the abbot who had returned to consciousness.
William said, “You shall have mercy, as long as you do as I ask.”
The monks said, “Gladly.”
And William said, “Now, here my thoughts. The fifteen horses that I brought you here, the fish that I brought from the sea, all these I present to you; but I ask that everything I have done against you be forgiven me. To you, Lord Abbot, I beg mercy in the name of God.”
“All is forgiven,” the abbot hastened to answer. “Let us bury the dead: they will soon be replaced by new monks. But by holy charity, tell me where you got that loot. Have you been through the woods of Beaucler and met the thieves?”
“I shall tell you everything,” responded William. “Going, I didn’t see a single one, but on my return journey I was attacked by fifteen bandits who wanted to mistreat me. They tied my servant’s hands and tossed him in a ditch; they showed us no mercy. I dealt with them so well – with only flesh and bone, of course – that the path is clear of them and will not hinder a poor man from traveling.”
“God be praised!” said the abbot. “They did not love Jesus. I absolve you of all your sins in regard to them.”
The abbot promptly had the fish unloaded and the monks ate dinner. William was put at the abbot’s table, and given as much good wine as he wanted to drink.
The dead were soon forgotten.
That night there appeared to William an angel that God had sent to him, and who said to him, “Do not be afraid! Through me the glorious One of Heaven commands you to leave this abbey tomorrow. Take your hauberk and your steel glaive, all your arms – don’t leave any of them behind. Mount and go without delay to the desert near Montpellier. In a wasteland next to a steep cliff, there is a fountain by a rock: no Christian has ever stayed there for a full day, save for a hermit who just died, killed by the villainous Saracens. There you will find a hut and a church; you shall be a hermit, God has commanded it.”
William said, “I do not wish to delay.”
The angel left, and when it was light Count William took leave of the abbey. The abbot granted him leave to go: he was not upset, and all the monks were very happy. William went to the stable and put the saddle on his warhorse: he did not ask for servant or squire. When he was mounted, he took his sword, bore all his arms, and left nothing behind. The abbot gave him twenty pounds in coin on condition that he never come back, which Count William promised. Then William left right to the desert near Montpellier, to the fountain by the rock; he found there a hut and a church wrecked by the Saracens.
William entered the hut and found a chapel and an altar. A holy hermit had lived there for a long time, and then died and met his end. There William planned to serve and honor God for the sake of his sins. He made a collar of deerskin and put it around his horse’s neck. Then he assembled many stones to restore the hut. In a few months he had rebuilt it and surrounded it by a strong wall, and planted trees and herbs. William was deep in the desert. Near the hut, where the spring comes out, he planted trees and plants in abundance. He fortified a castle on the hill. There William stayed because of evil Saracens. Pilgrims who go there can still see it.
High was the hill where he was lodged, and below there was a ravine in which roared a torrent that came down from a rock, and which no one could cross without risking danger. One day while William was looking at this perilous passage, where so many people had died, the thought came to him to to put up a stone bridge, for the pilgrims and packhorses and poor people who go by foot, who have neither horse nor boat to cross the water. For William understood that pilgrims passed by there to go pray at St. Giles, and also those who went to Rochemadoul to honor Our Lady of the Rock.
Count William began the bridge: he dragged more than a thousand rocks and stones and began his labor. But no sooner had he begun the first arch than the devil promised to interrupt his work. What William built during the day, the adversary destroyed during the night. When he came back to the task, he found everything broken and demolished, and that the stones had rolled down into the ravine. This happened for a whole month: he could not accomplish anything that he didn’t find broken the next day. It is not surprising that this made him angry.
“God and the Blessed Virgin help me!” he cried. “What devil can cause all this damage? It is the Enemy who wants to tempt me. But, by the holy Apostle of Rome, if I have to watch for a month, I will, so I can find out who it is. Every night I will begin a watch.” Count William went back to his hard work, which was continually broken up. One night he stood sentry. “God, Who created the world,” he said, “if You like the work I have undertaken, let me see who is destroying it!”
With these words, Satan came and broke the bridge and made a great fight of it, all while mocking Lord William and swearing that he could build nothing during the day that he would not destroy during the night.
But he did not know what the count was thinking: the count made the sign of the cross as soon as he saw him, and without further reflection threw himself at him. The devil could not protect himself against him. The count took his arm in his hand: “Greedy one,” said William, “it is for evildoing that you’ve come here. You did me much harm, but now you’ll pay for it.” He spun the devil three times in the air, and on the fourth he threw him down, so that he was completely in the water. His fall made a terrible noise like a tower had crumbled.
“Go, devil!” said the count. “God, Who created the world, do not allow this wicked one to come back here. By Your will, let him remain there!” And God heard his prayer: thus the devil could not get out of there. He is still lying there, and there he will remain. The ravine is dark and deep, and since the evil spirit fell there the water has not stopped swirling, and the waves will never be calmed. So great is the ravine, no one can get to the bottom of it. Many pilgrims who go by see it: they throw pebbles and stones in the depths. Thus William managed to complete his bridge.
He lived a holy life in his hermitage; at last he died, as we read, and God received his soul high up in his house. There still monks at Saint-Guillaume-du-Désert, but with the death of the count I can sing no more.
Let us pray God that he forgives us, as he forgave William. Amen!