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- Homo Sum, Volume 4. - 2/9 -
be spoilt or perhaps altogether ruined for the sake of a lost woman, drove her to desperation, and filled her motherly heart with indignation.
Firmly resolved to carry out her threat she stepped towards the figure, but Polykarp placed himself in her way, raising his arm imploringly to defend it, and saying, "Not to-day--not yet, mother! I will cover it up, and will not look at it again till to-morrow, but once--only once--I must see it again by sunlight."
"So that to-morrow the old madness may revive in you!" cried Dorothea. "Move out of my way or take the hammer yourself."
"You order it, and you are my mother," said Polykarp.
He slowly went up to the chest in which his tools and instruments lay, and bitter tears ran down his cheeks, as he took his heaviest hammer in his hand.
When the sky has shown for many days in summer-blue, and then suddenly the clouds gather for a storm, when the first silent but fearful flash with it noisy but harmless associate the thunder-clap has terrified the world, a second and third thunder-bolt immediately follow. Since the stormy night of yesterday had broken in on the peaceful, industrious, and monotonous life by the senator's hearth, many things had happened that had filled him and his wife with fresh anxiety.
In other houses it was nothing remarkable that a slave should run away, but in the senator's it was more than twenty years since such a thing had occurred, and yesterday the goat-herd Miriam had disappeared. This was vexatious, but the silent sorrow of his son Polykarp was a greater anxiety to Petrus. It did not please him that the youth, who was usually so vehement, should submit unresistingly and almost indifferently to the Bishop Agapitus, who prohibited his completing his lions. His son's sad gaze, his crushed and broken aspect were still in his mind when at last he went to rest for the night; it was already late, but sleep avoided him even as it had avoided Dorothea. While the mother was thinking of her son's sinful love and the bleeding wound in his young and betrayed heart, the father grieved for Polykarp's baffled hopes of exercising his art on a great work and recalled the saddest, bitterest day of his own youth; for he too had served his apprenticeship under a sculptor in Alexandria, had looked up to the works of the heathen as noble models, and striven to form himself upon them. He had already been permitted by his master to execute designs of his own, and out of the abundance of subjects which offered themselves, he had chosen to model an Ariadne, waiting and longing for the return of Thescus, as a symbolic image of his own soul awaiting its salvation. How this work had filled his mind! how delightful had the hours of labor seemed to him!--when, suddenly, his stern father had come to the city, had seen his work before it was quite finished, and instead of praising it had scorned it; had abused it as a heathen idol, and had commanded Petrus to return home with him immediately, and to remain there, for that his son should be a pious Christian, and a good stone-mason withal--not half a heathen, and a maker of false gods.
Petrus had much loved his art, but he offered no resistance to his father's orders; he followed him back to the oasis, there to superintend the work of the slaves who hewed the stone, to measure granite-blocks for sarcophagi and pillars, and to direct the cutting of them. His father was a man of steel, and he himself a lad of iron, and when he saw himself compelled to yield to his father and to leave his master's workshop, to abandon his cherished and unfinished work and to become an artizan and mail of business, he swore never again to take a piece of clay in his hand, or to wield a chisel. And he kept his word even after his fathers death; but his creative instincts and love of art continued to live and work in him, and were transmitted to his two sons.
Antonius was a highly gifted artist, and if Polykarp's master was not mistaken, and if he himself were not misled by fatherly affection, his second son was on the high road to the very first rank in art--to a position reached only by elect spirits.
Petrus knew the models for the Good Shepherd and for the lions, and declared to himself that these last were unsurpassable in truth, power, and majesty. How eagerly must the young artist long to execute them in hard stone, and to see them placed in the honored, though indeed pagan, spot, which was intended for them. And now the bishop forbade him the work, and the poor fellow might well be feeling just as he himself had felt thirty years ago, when he had been commanded to abandon the immature first-fruits of his labor.
Was the bishop indeed right? This and many other questions agitated the sleepless father, and as soon as he heard that his wife had risen from her bed to go to her son, whose footsteps he too could hear overhead, he got up and followed her.
He found the door of the work-room open, and, himself unseen and unheard, he was witness to his wife's vehement speech, and to the lad's justification, while Polykarp's work stood in the full light of the lamps, exactly in front of him.
His gaze was spell-bound to the mass of clay; he looked and looked, and was not weary of looking, and his soul swelled with the same awe-struck sense of devout admiration that it had experienced, when for the first time, in his early youth, he saw with his own eyes the works of the great old Athenian masters in the Caesareum.
And this head was his son's work!
He stood there greatly overcome, his hands clasped together, holding his breath till his mouth was dry, and swallowing his tears to keep them from falling. At the same time he listened with anxious attention, so as not to lose one word of Polykarp's.
"Aye, thus and thus only are great works of art begotten," said he to himself, "and if the Lord had bestowed on me such gifts as on this lad, no father, nay, no god, should have compelled me to leave my Ariadne unfinished. The attitude of the body was not bad I should say--but the head, the face--Aye, the man who can mould such a likeness as that has his hand and eye guided by the holy spirits of art. He who has done that head will be praised in the latter days together with the great Athenian masters--and he-yes, he, merciful Heaven! he is my own beloved son!"
A blessed sense of rejoicing, such as he had not felt since his early youth, filled his heart, and Dorothea's ardor seemed to him half pitiful and half amusing.
It was not till his duteous son took the hammer in his hand, that he stepped between his wife and the bust, saying kindly:
"There will be time enough to-morrow to destroy the work. Forget the model, my son, now that you have taken advantage of it so successfully. I know of a better mistress for you--Art--to whom belongs everything of beauty that the Most High has created--In Art in all its breadth and fulness, not fettered and narrowed by any Agapitus."
Polykarp flung himself into his father's arms, and the stern man, hardly master of his emotions, kissed the boy's forehead, his eyes, and his cheeks.
At noon of the following day the senator went to the women's room, and while he was still on the threshold, he asked his wife--who was busy at the loom:
"Where is Polykarp? I did not find him with Antonius, who is working at the placing of the altar, and I thought I might find him here."
"After going to the church," said Dorothea, "he went up the mountain. Go down to the workshops, Marthana, and see if your brother has come back."
Her daughter obeyed quickly and gladly, for her brother was to her the dearest, and seemed to her to be the best, of men. As soon as the pair were alone together Petrus said, while he held out his hand to his wife with genial affection, "Well, mother--shake hands." Dorothea paused for an instant, looking him in the face, as if to ask him, "Does your pride at last allow you to cease doing me an injustice?" It was a reproach, but in truth not a severe one, or her lips would hardly have trembled so tenderly, as she said.
"You cannot be angry with me any longer, and it is well that all should once more be as it ought."
All certainly had not been "as it ought," for since the husband and wife had met in Polykarp's work-room, they had behaved to each other as if they were strangers. In their bedroom, on the way to church, and at breakfast, they had spoken to each no more than was absolutely necessary, or than was requisite in order to conceal their difference from the servants and children. Up to this time, an understanding had always subsisted between them that had never taken form in words, and yet that had scarcely in a single case been infringed, that neither should ever praise one of their children for anything that the other thought blameworthy, and vice versa.
But in this night, her husband had followed up her severest condemnation by passionately embracing the wrong-doer. Never had she been so stern in any circumstances, while on the other hand her husband, so long as she could remember, had never been so softhearted and tender to his son, and yet she had controlled herself so far, as not to contradict Petrus in Polykarp's presence, and to leave the work-room in silence with her husband.
"When we are once alone together in the bedroom," thought she, "I will represent to him his error as I ought, and he will have to answer for himself."
But she did not carry out this purpose, for she felt that something must be passing in her husband's mind that she did not understand; otherwise how could his grave eyes shine so mildly and kindly, and his stern lips smile so affectionately after all that had occurred when he, lamp in hand, had mounted the narrow stair.
He had often told her that she could read his soul like an open book, but she did not conceal from herself that there were certain sides of that complex structure whose meaning she was incapable of comprehending. And strange to say, she ever and again came upon these incomprehensible phases of his soul, when the images of the gods, and the idolatrous temples of the heathen, or when their sons' enterprises and work were the matters in hand. And yet Petrus was the son of a pious Christian; but his grandfather had been a Greek heathen, and hence perhaps a certain something wrought in his blood which tormented her, because she could not reconcile it with Agapitus' doctrine, but which she nevertheless dared not attempt to oppose because her taciturn husband never spoke out with so much cheerfulness and frankness as when he might talk of these things with his sons and their friends, who often accompanied them to the oasis. Certainly, it could be nothing sinful that at this particular moment
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