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- Homo Sum, Volume 1. - 4/10 -
heaven as if to attest how greatly men were deceived in him. Then he pushed the bushy grizzled hair, which hung in disorder over his neck and face, out of his eyes, and said cheerfully: "No man is more than man, and many men are less. In the ark there were many beasts, but only one Noah."
"You are the Noah of our little ark," replied Stephanus.
"Then this great lout here is the elephant," laughed Paulus.
"You are no smaller than he," replied Stephanus.
"It is a pity this stone roof is so low, else we might have measured ourselves," said Paulus. "Aye! if Hermas and I were as pious and pure as we are tall and strong, we should both have the key of paradise in our pockets. You were scourging yourself this night, boy; I heard the blows. It is well; if the sinful flesh revolts, thus we may subdue it."
"He groaned heavily and could not sleep," said Stephanus.
"Aye, did he indeed!" cried Paulus to the youth, and held his powerful arms out towards him with clenched fists; but the threatening voice was loud rather than terrible, and wild as the exceptionally big man looked in his sheepskin, there was such irresistible kindliness in his gaze and in his voice, that no one could have believed that his wrath was in earnest.
"Fiends of hell had met him," said Stephanus in excuse for his son, "and I should not have closed an eye even without his groaning; it is the fifth night."
"But in the sixth," said Paulus, "sleep is absolutely necessary. Put on your sheep-skin, Hermas; you must go down to the oasis to the Senator Petrus, and fetch a good sleeping-draught for our sick man from him or from Dame Dorothea, the deaconess. Just look! the youngster has really thought of his father's breakfast--one's own stomach is a good reminder. Only put the bread and the water down here by the couch; while you are gone I will fetch some fresh--now, come with me."
"Wait a minute, wait," cried Stephanus. "Bring a new jar with you from the town, my son. You lent us yours yesterday, Paulus, and I must--"
"I should soon have forgotten it," interrupted the other. "I have to thank the careless fellow, for I have now for the first time discovered the right way to drink, as long as one is well and able. I would not have the jar back for a measure of gold; water has no relish unless you drink it out of the hollow of your hand! The shard is yours. I should be warring against my own welfare, if I required it back. God be praised! the craftiest thief can now rob me of nothing save my sheepskin."
Stephanus would have thanked him, but he took Hermas by the hand, and led him out into the open air. For some time the two men walked in silence over the clefts and boulders up the mountain side. When they had reached a plateau, which lay on the road that led from the sea over the mountain into the oasis, he turned to the youth, and said:
"If we always considered all the results of our actions there would be no sins committed."
Hermas looked at him enquiringly, and Paulus went on, "If it had occurred to you to think how sorely your poor father needed sleep, you would have lain still this night."
"I could not," said the youth sullenly. "And you know very well that I scourged myself hard enough."
"That was quite right, for you deserved a flogging for a misconducted boy."
Hermas looked defiantly at his reproving friend, the flaming color mounted to his cheek: for he remembered the shepherdess's words that he might go and complain to his nurse, and he cried out angrily:
"I will not let any one speak to me so; I am no longer a child."
"Not even your father's?" asked Paulus, and he looked at the boy with such an astonished and enquiring air, that Hermas turned away his eyes in confusion.
"It is not right at any rate to trouble the last remnant of life of that very man who longs to live for your sake only."
"I should have been very willing to be still, for I love my father as well as any one else."
"You do not beat him," replied Paulus, "you carry him bread and water, and do not drink up the wine yourself, which the Bishop sends him home from the Lord's supper; that is something certainly, but not enough by a long way."
"I am no saint!"
"Nor I neither," exclaimed Paulus, "I am full of sin and weakness. But I know what the love is which was taught us by the Saviour, and that you too may know. He suffered on the cross for you, and for me, and for all the poor and vile. Love is at once the easiest and the most difficult of attainments. It requires sacrifice. And you? How long is it now since you last showed your father a cheerful countenance?"
"I cannot be a hypocrite."
"Nor need you, but you must love. Certainly it is not by what his hand does but by what his heart cheerfully offers, and by what he forces himself to give up that a man proves his love."
"And is it no sacrifice that I waste all my youth here?" asked the boy.
Paulus stepped back from him a little way, shook his matted head, and said, "Is that it? You are thinking of Alexandria! Ay! no doubt life runs away much quicker there than on our solitary mountain. You do not fancy the tawny shepherd girl, but perhaps some pretty pink and white Greek maiden down there has looked into your eyes?"
"Let me alone about the women," answered Hermas, with genuine annoyance. "There are other things to look at there."
The youth's eyes sparkled as he spoke, and Paulus asked, not without interest, "Indeed?"
"You know Alexandria better than I," answered Hermas evasively. "You were born there, and they say you had been a rich young man."
"Do they say so?" said Paulus. "Perhaps they are right; but you must know that I am glad that nothing any longer belongs to me of all the vanities that I possessed, and I thank my Saviour that I can now turn my back on the turmoil of men. What was it that seemed to you so particularly tempting in all that whirl?"
Hermas hesitated. He feared to speak, and yet something urged and drove him to say out all that was stirring his soul. If any one of all those grave men who despised the world and among whom he had grown up, could ever understand him, he knew well that it would be Paulus; Paulus whose rough beard he had pulled when he was little, on whose shoulders he had often sat, and who had proved to him a thousand times how truly he loved him. It is true the Alexandrian was the severest of them all, but he was harsh only to himself. Hermas must once for all unburden his heart, and with sudden decision he asked the anchorite:
"Did you often visit the baths?"
"Often? I only wonder that I did not melt away and fall to pieces in the warm water like a wheaten loaf."
"Why do you laugh at that which makes men beautiful?" cried Hermas hastily. "Why may Christians even visit the baths in Alexandria, while we up here, you and my father and all anchorites, only use water to quench our thirst? You compel me to live like one of you, and I do not like being a dirty beast."
"None can see us but the Most High," answered Paulus, "and for him we cleanse and beautify our souls."
"But the Lord gave us our body too," interrupted Hermas. "It is written that man is the image of God. And we! I appeared to myself as repulsive as a hideous ape when at the great baths by the Gate of the Sun I saw the youths and men with beautifully arranged and scented hair and smooth limbs that shone with cleanliness and purification. And as they went past, and I looked at my mangy sheepfell, and thought of my wild mane and my arms and feet, which are no worse formed or weaker than theirs were, I turned hot and cold, and I felt as if some bitter drink were choking me. I should have liked to howl out with shame and envy and vexation. I will not be like a monster!"
Hermas ground his teeth as he spoke the last words, and Paulus looked uneasily at him as he went on: "My body is God's as much as my soul is, and what is allowed to the Christians in the city--"
"That we nevertheless may not do," Paulus interrupted gravely. "He who has once devoted himself to Heaven must detach himself wholly from the charm of life, and break one tie after another that binds him to the dust. I too once upon a time have anointed this body, and smoothed this rough hair, and rejoiced sincerely over my mirror; but I say to you, Hermas--and, by my dear Saviour, I say it only because I feel it, deep in my heart I feel it--to pray is better than to bathe, and I, a poor wretch, have been favored with hours in which my spirit has struggled free, and has been permitted to share as an honored guest in the festal joys of Heaven!"
While he spoke, his wide open eyes had turned towards Heaven and had acquired a wondrous brightness. For a short time the two stood opposite each other silent and motionless; at last the anchorite pushed the hair from off his brow, which was now for the first time visible. It was well-formed, though somewhat narrow, and its clear fairness formed a sharp contrast to his sunburnt face.
"Boy," he said with a deep breath, "you know not what joys you would sacrifice for the sake of worthless things. Long ere the Lord, calls the pious man to Heaven, the pious has brought Heaven down to earth in himself."
Hermas well understood what the anchorite meant, for his father often for hours at a time gazed up into Heaven in prayer, neither seeing nor hearing what was going on around him, and was wont to relate to his son, when he awoke from his ecstatic vision, that he had seen the Lord or heard the angel-choir.
He himself had never succeeded in bringing himself into such a state, although Stephanus had often compelled him to remain on his knees praying with him for many interminable hours. It often happened that the old
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