You have probably sent and received many valentines. Have you ever wondered how this day came to be, and what its meaning is? This story will tell you why we celebrate Valentine Day, and what its true spirit is.
Once upon a time, a long while ago, there lived in a far-off country, near the land where St. Valentine had lived, a fine young Bishop. This Bishop had heard so many beautiful stories of all the brave, helpful deeds of St. Valentine, that he loved St. Valentine very dearly, and wished that he might be like him.
Now as the Bishop kept thinking about St. Valentine and really wanting to be like him, he said to himself one day, "Why don't I do some of the kind, loving acts of St. Valentine if I am really so fond of him?" Just then he went out for a walk, and as he passed the one who scrubbed the steps, he said: "It is a pleasure to walk where it is all so clean as you make it," and the worker scrubbed harder than ever as he smiled and bowed a "Thank you."
The Bishop went on, overtaking on the way a market-woman resting a moment beside the road with her basket. "Good day, my good woman," said the Bishop. "Let me help you on a bit with your basket." And the kindly way in which he said it made the basket seem only half as heavy as it had been before.
They parted at the cross-roads, but all the way home, the woman told her neighbors, the basket never again grew so heavy after the Bishop had smiled and helped her.
The Bishop had helped many other people in different ways before the little woman reached home to tell her neighbors this, but when he reached home he had forgotten all about helping them and only remembered the people themselves, wondering what the dear St. Valentine would do for them were he still here. Suddenly he remembered that St. Valentine's birthday was coming, and he thought, "Oh, perhaps I can write some message of love like the ones that he used to send the people." So he dipped his goose-quill into the ink and began to write. One message after another he wrote; forgetting himself, and full of love for God, St. Valentine, and all the people that he longed to help.
Some of the others, on their way to bed, passed by his desk, as he worked away so busily. He did not notice them, except to nod and smile, but even that made them feel as if they truly would begin all new on the next day, to be finer than ever. The last one to pass noticed that a strange thing was happening. As fast as the ink dried on the notes, it changed to the brightest, most shining gold you ever saw! He looked at the Bishop, but the Bishop did not seem to notice it at all; so he went to his room, looking back to watch, for the golden letters in the notes seemed to match the smile on the Bishop's face and the look in his eyes.
The next morning, however, this last one to pass by the Bishop's desk was the first one up, and going to the Bishop's desk he took the quill in his hand to examine it. He thought it must be a new kind of wonderful pen that had made the letters change, but closely as he could look, there seemed to be nothing unusual about it; it was just a common goose feather, and rather worn, at that. "Ah," thought he, "I know now! It is the ink!" Quickly he dipped the pen into the ink and wrote a few words to try it, but they were his own name, and he saw that the ink was black just like the ink of his own inkwell. He simply could not understand it. Just then along came the Bishop, who had all the notes put into a great leather bag, and a messenger sent out to deliver them. So these letters were carried to the houses the Bishop had remembered as needing some comfort, or some reminder that they were always to do their best about all their work.
You can hardly imagine the surprise of the people, young and old, who received these beautiful. letters, showing such wise, strong love, and written with this sparkling, glittering gold. One little boy put the letter under his pillow, and a little girl at another house hung hers on the wall where every one could see it. The father at another house had his letter framed to keep it safe from dust or wrinkling.
However, a strange thing happened to one of these beautiful letters. The man who received it thought of the wonderful words for a while, but then he began to think about the gold letters. More and more each day he admired the gold letters, until at last he took out the note and with a fine knife scraped off all the gold and poured it into a tiny bottle. "For," said he, "I can easily remember the words, and the goldsmith will give me some money for all this wonderful gold."
So off to the goldsmith he hurried, and very important he felt as he asked the smith, "Sir, would you like to buy some very fine gold?"
"That I would," said the smith, "for I have here a most rare jewel I've long been wishing to set, if only fine enough gold could be found."
"Well, what do you think of this?" said the man, as he carefully drew the bottle from his pocket.
Oh, how the goldsmith's face shone as he saw the beautiful gold! "Where did you get such fine gold with such a wonderful luster? I have been a master workman for years, and this is the kind of gold I have dreamed of, but never seen."
Now, when the smith asked the man where he got it, he remembered the Bishop's kind, loving letter and felt very bad to think he had dared to mar such a helpful message. But he answered, "'A friend sent it to me."
"Ah," said the goldsmith to himself, "it must be a terrible need that forces a man to part with such a gift from a friend." But aloud he said, "Its price is greater than rubies or emeralds or sapphires, for it is in every way superior to any gold known to us goldsmiths. There must be six ounces, too, in that bottle. It would be worth--" Now I dare not tell you how much he said, for it took the man's breath away.
The goldsmith put a six-ounce weight on one side of the scale and poured the gold slowly and carefully into the other; but it did not draw up level the six-ounce weight. So he tried five ounces--no, he had to put in four. That was still too heavy; so he slipped in three, saying, "How could I have been so mistaken!" No, the gold would not even draw up the three-ounce weight, and the two men thought this the strangest thing they had ever seen.
Surely that pile of bright gold must weigh more than two ounces! Still the scales would not balance, and the men were more surprised when it would not draw up one ounce.
On through the smaller weights went the goldsmith, and the gold seemed to shine brighter and brighter. Then he came to the tiniest one. By this time the men were almost frightened, but with trembling hands the smith slipped in the smallest weight.
Just then all the gold seemed to change to the most wonderful spreading sunlight, which filled the whole room before it disappeared, and as the man wept to think of the Bishop's beautiful message, a still, small voice seemed to whisper, "The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life."
Andrea Hofer Proudfoot