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- The Little Hunchback Zia - 4/4 -


went toward him, walking with slow steps. He gazed at her with mild, unillumined eyes.

"Does he not see the light!" panted Zia. "Does he not see the light!"

Soon he himself no longer saw it. Joseph of Nazareth came to the wooden doors and drew them together, and the boy stood alone on the mountain- side, trembling still, and wet with the dew of the night; but not weary, not hungered, not athirst or afraid, only quaking with wonder and joy-- he, the little hunchback Zia, who had known no joy before since the hour of his birth.

He sank upon the earth slowly in an exquisite peace--a peace that thrilled his whole being as it stole over his limbs, deepening moment by moment. His head drooped softly upon a cushion of moss. As his eyelids fell, he saw the splendor of whiteness floating in the height of the purple vault above him.

The dawn was breaking and yet the stars had not faded away. This was his thought when his eyes first opened on a great one, greater than any other in the sky, and of so pure a brilliance that it seemed as if even the sun would not be bright enough to put it out. It hung high in the paling blue, high as the white radiance; and as he lay and gazed, he thought it surely moved. What new star was it that in that one night had been born? He had watched the stars through so many desolate hours that he knew each great one as a friend, and this one he had never seen before.

The morning was cold, and his clothes were wet with dew, but he felt no chill. He remembered; yes, he remembered. If he had lived in a vision the day before, he was surely living in one yet. The Zia who had been starved and beaten and driven out naked into the world, who had clutched his thin breast and sobbed, writhing upon the earth, where was he? He looked down upon his hands and saw the cracked and scaling palms, and it was as though they were not. He thrust back the covering from his chest and saw the spots there. But there were no lepers, there were no hunchbacks; there were only Zia and the light. He knelt and turned himself toward the cave and prayed, and as he so knelt and prayed the man Joseph rolled open the heavy wooden door.

Then Zia, still kneeling, beat himself softly upon the breast and prayed again, not as before to Jehovah, but to that which he beheld.

The light was there, fair, radiant, wonderful. The cave was bathed in it. The woman in the blue robe sat upon the straw, and in her arms she held a new-born child. Zia touched his forehead to the earth again, again, again, unknowing that he did so. The child was the light itself!

He must rise and draw near. That which had drawn him up the mountainside drew him again. The child was the light itself! As he crept near the cave's entrance, the woman's eyes rested upon him soft and wonderful.

She spoke to him--she spoke!

"Be not afraid," she said. "Draw nigh and behold!"

Her voice was not as the voice of other women; it was like her eyes, his body, through his blood, through every limb and fleshy atom of him, he felt it steal--new life, warming, thrilling, wakening in his veins new life! As he felt it, he knelt quaking with rapture even as he had stood the night before gazing at the light. The new-born hand lay still.

He did not know how long he knelt. He did not know that the woman leaned toward him, scarce drawing breath, her wondrous eyes resting upon him as if she waited for a sign. Even as she so gazed she beheld it, and spoke, whispering as in awed prayer:

"Go forth and cleanse thy flesh in running water," she said. "Go forth."

He moved, he rose, he stood upright--the hunchback Zia who had never stood upright before! His body was straight, his limbs were strong. He looked upon his hands, and there was no blemish or spot to be seen!

"I am made whole!" he cried in ecstasy so wild that his boy's voice rang and echoed in the cave's hollowed roof. "I am made whole!"

"Go forth," she said softly. "Go forth and give praise."

He turned and went into the dawning day. He stood swaying, and heard himself sob forth a rapturous cry of prayer. His flesh was fresh and pure; he stood erect and tall. He was as others whom God had not cursed. The light! the light! He stretched forth his arms to the morning sky.

Some shepherds roughly clothed in the skins of lambs and kids were climbing the hill toward the cave. They carried their crooks, and they talked eagerly as though in wonderment at some strange thing which had befallen them, looking up at the heavens, and one pointed with his crook.

"Surely it draws nearer, the star!" he said. "Look!"

As they passed a thicket where a brook flowed through the trees a fair boy came forth, cleansed, fresh, and radiant as if he had but just bathed in its clear waters. It was the boy Zia.

"Who is this one?" said the oldest shepherd,

"How beautiful he is! How the light shines on him! He looks like a king's son."

[Illustration with caption: "'How beautiful he is!'"--Page 54]

And as they passed, they made obeisance to him.


The Little Hunchback Zia - 4/4

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