Schulers Books Online
books - games - software - wallpaper - everything
- Homo Sum, Volume 2. - 5/10 -
"Forgive him too," said Paulus, "and do not let evil thoughts disturb your sleep."
"I am not tired," said the sick man, "and if you had gone through such things as I have, it would trouble your rest at night too."
"I know, I know," said Paulus soothingly. "It was a Gaul that persuaded your wretched wife into quitting your house and her child."
"And I loved, oh! how I loved Glycera!" groaned the old man. "She lived like a princess and I fulfilled her every wish before it was uttered. She herself has said a hundred times that I was too kind and too yielding, and that there was nothing left for her to wish. Then the Gaul came to our house, a man as acrid as sour wine, but with a fluent tongue and sparkling eyes. How he entangled Glycera I know not, nor do I want to know; he shall atone for it in hell. For the poor lost woman I pray day and night. A spell was on her, and she left her heart behind in my house, for her child was there and she loved Hermas so fondly; indeed she was deeply devoted to me. Think what the spell must be that can annihilate a mother's love! Wretch, hapless wretch that I am! Did you ever love a woman, Paulus?"
"You ought to be asleep," said Paulus in a warning tone. "Who ever lived nearly half a century without feeling love! Now I will not speak another word, and you must take this drink that Petrus has sent for you." The senator's medicine was potent, for the sick man fell asleep and did not wake till broad day lighted up the cave.
Paulus was still sitting on his bed, and after they had prayed together, he gave him the jar which Hermas had filled with fresh water before going down to the oasis.
"I feel quite strong," said the old man. "The medicine is good; I have slept well and dreamed sweetly; but you look pale and as if you had not slept."
"I," said Paulus, "I lay down there on the bed. Now let me go out in the air for a moment." With these words he went out of the cave.
As soon as he was out of sight of Stephanus he drew a deep breath, stretched his limbs, and rubbed his burning eyes; he felt as if there was sand gathered under their lids, for he had forbidden them to close for three days and nights. At the same time he was consumed by a violent thirst, for neither food nor drink had touched his lips for the same length of time. His hands were beginning to tremble, but the weakness and pain that he experienced filled him with silent joy, and he would willingly have retired into his cave and have indulged, not for the first time, in the ecstatic pain of hanging on the cross, and bleeding from five wounds, in imitation of the Saviour.
But Stephanus was calling him, and without hesitation he returned to him and replied to his questions; indeed it was easier to him to speak than to listen, for in his ears there was a roaring, moaning, singing, and piping, and he felt as if drunk with strong wine.
"If only Hermas does not forget to thank the Gaul!" exclaimed Stephanus.
"Thank--aye, we should always be thankful!" replied his companion, closing his eyes.
"I dreamed of Glycera," the old man began again. You said yesterday that love had stirred your heart too, and yet you never were married. You are silent? Answer me something."
"I--who called me?" murmured Paulus, staring at the questioner with a fixed gaze.
Stephanus was startled to see that his companion trembled in every limb, he raised himself and held out to him the flask with Sirona's wine, which the other, incapable of controlling himself, snatched eagerly from his hand, and emptied with frantic thirst. The fiery liquor revived his failing strength, brought the color to his cheeks, and lent a strange lustre to his eyes. "How much good that has done me!" he cried with a deep sigh and pressing his hands on his breast.
Stephanus was perfectly reassured and repeated his question, but he almost repented of his curiosity, for his friend's voice had an utterly strange ring in it, as he answered:
"No, I was never married--never, but I have loved for all that, and I will tell you the story from beginning to end; but you must not interrupt me, no not once. I am in a strange mood--perhaps it is the wine. I had not drunk any for so long; I had fasted since--since but it does not matter. Be silent, quite silent, and let me tell my story."
Paulus sat down on Hermas' bed; he threw himself far back, leaned the back of his head against the rocky wall of the cavern, through whose doorway the daylight poured, and began thus, while he gazed fixedly into vacancy, "What she was like?--who can, describe her? She was tall and large like Hera, and yet not proud, and her noble Greek face was lovely rather than handsome.
"She could no longer have been very young, but she had eyes like those of a gentle child. I never knew her other than very pale; her narrow forehead shone like ivory under her soft brown hair; her beautiful hands were as white as her forehead-hands that moved as if they themselves were living and inspired creatures with a soul and language of their own. When she folded them devoutly together it seemed as if they were putting up a mute prayer. She was pliant in form as a young palm-tree when it bends, and withal she had a noble dignity, even on the occasion when I first saw her.
"It was a hideous spot, the revolting prison-hall of Rhyakotis. She wore only a threadbare robe that had once been costly, and a foul old woman followed her about--as a greedy rat might pursue an imprisoned dove--and loaded her with abusive language. She answered not a word, but large heavy tears flowed slowly over her pale cheeks and down on to her hands, which she kept crossed on her bosom. Grief and anguish spoke from her eyes, but no vehement passion deformed the regularity of her features. She knew how to endure even ignominy with grace, and what words the raging old woman poured out upon her!
"I had long since been baptized, and all the prisons were open to me, the rich Menander, the brother-in-law of the prefect--those prisons in which under Maximin so many Christians were destined to be turned from the true faith.
"But she did not belong to us. Her eye met mine, and I signed my forehead with the cross, but she did not respond to the sacred sign. The guards led away the old woman, and she drew back into a dark corner, sat down, and covered her face with her hands. A wondrous sympathy for the hapless woman had taken possession of my soul; I felt as if she belonged to me, and I to her, and I believed in her, even when the turnkey had told me in coarse language that she had lived with a Roman at the old woman's, and had defrauded her of a large sum of money. The next day I went again to the prison, for her sake and my own; there I found her again in the same corner that she had shrunk into the day before; by her stood her prison fare untouched, a jar of water and a piece of bread.
"As I went up to her, I saw how she broke a small bit off the thin cake for herself, and then called a little Christian boy who had come into the prison with his mother, and gave him the remainder. The child thanked her prettily, and she drew him to her, and kissed him with passionate tenderness, though he was sickly and ugly.
"'No one who can love children so well is wholly lost,' said I to myself, and I offered to help her as far as lay in my power.
"She looked at me not without distrust, and said that nothing had happened to her, but what she deserved, and she would bear it. Before I could enquire of her any further, we were interrupted by the Christian prisoners, who crowded around the worthy Ammonius, who was exhorting and comforting them with edifying discourse. She listened attentively to the old man, and on the following day I found her in conversation with the mother of the boy to whom she had given her bread.
"One morning, I had gone there with some fruit to offer as a treat to the prisoners, and particularly to her. She took an apple, and said, rising as she spoke, 'I would now ask another favor of you. You are a Christian, send me a priest, that he may baptize me, if he does not think me unworthy, for I am burdened with sins so heavily as no other woman can be.' Her large, sweet, childlike eyes filled again with big silent tears, and I spoke to her from my heart, and showed her as well as I could the grace of the Redeemer. Shortly after, Ammonius secretly baptized her, and she begged to be given the name of Magdalen, and so it was, and after that she took me wholly into her confidence.
"She had left her husband and her child for the sake of a diabolical seducer, whom she had followed to Alexandria, and who there had abandoned her. Alone and friendless, in want and guilt, she remained behind with a hard-hearted and covetous hostess, who had brought her before the judge, and so into prison. What an abyss of the deepest anguish of soul I could discover in this woman, who was worthy of a better lot! What is highest and best in a woman? Her love, her mother's heart, her honor; and Magdalen had squandered and ruined all these by her own guilt. The blow of overwhelming fate may be easily borne, but woe to him, whose life is ruined by his own sin! She was a sinner, she felt it with anguish of repentance, and she steadily refused my offers to purchase her freedom.
"She was greedy of punishment, as a man in a fever is greedy of the bitter potion, which cools his blood. And, by the crucified Lord! I have found more noble humanity among sinners, than in many just men in priestly garb. Through the presence of Magdalen, the prison recovered its sanctity in my eyes. Before this I had frequently quitted it full of deep contempt, for among the imprisoned Christians, there were too often lazy vagabond's, who had loudly confessed the Saviour only to be fed by the gifts of the brethren; there I had seen accursed criminals, who hoped by a martyr's death to win back the redemption that they had forfeited; there I had heard the woeful cries of the faint-hearted, who feared death as much as they feared treason to the most High. There were things to be seen there that might harrow the soul, but also examples of the sublimest greatness. Men have I seen there, aye, and women, who went to their death in calm and silent bliss, and whose end was, indeed, noble--more noble than that of the much-lauded Codrus or Decius Mus.
"Among all the prisoners there was neither man nor woman who was more calmly self-possessed, more devoutly resigned, than Magdalen. The words, 'There is more joy in Heaven over one sinner that repenteth than over ninety and nine that need no repentance,' strengthened her greatly, and she repented--yea and verily, she did. And for my part, God is my witness that not an impulse as from man to woman drew me to her, and yet I could not leave her, and I passed the day by her side, and at night she haunted my soul, and it would have seemed to me fairer than all in life besides to have been allowed to die with her.
"It was at the time of the fourth decree of persecution, a few months before the promulgation of the first edict of toleration.
"He that sacrifices, it is said, shall go unpunished, and he that
Previous Page Next Page
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Schulers Books Online
books - games - software - wallpaper - everything