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- Homo Sum, Volume 4. - 3/9 -
seemed to light up her husband's face, and restore his youth.
"They just are men," said she to herself, "and in many things they have the advantage of us women. The old man looks as he did on his wedding- day! Polykarp is the very image of him, as every one says, and now, looking at the father, and recalling to my mind how the boy looked when he told me how he could not refrain from making Sirona's portrait, I must say that I never saw such a likeness in the whole course of my life."
He bid her a friendly good night, and extinguished the lamp. She would willingly have said a loving word to him, for his contented expression touched and comforted her, but that would just then have been too much after what she had gone through in her son's workroom. In former years it had happened pretty often that, when one of them had caused dissatisfaction to the other, and there had been some quarrel between them, they had gone to rest unreconciled, but the older they grew the more rarely did this occur, and it was now a long time since any shadow had fallen on the perfect serenity of their married life.
Three years ago, on the occasion of the marriage of their eldest son, they had been standing together, looking up at the starry sky, when Petrus had come close up to her, and had said, "How calmly and peacefully the wanderers up there follow their roads without jostling or touching one another! As I walked home alone from the quarries by their friendly light, I thought of many things. Perhaps there was once a time when the stars rushed wildly about in confusion, crossing each other's path, while many a star flew in pieces at the impact. Then the Lord created man, and love came into the world and filled the heavens and the earth, and he commanded the stars to be our light by night; then each began to respect the path of the other, and the stars more rarely came into collision till even the smallest and swiftest kept to its own path and its own period, and the shining host above grew to be as harmonious as it is numberless. Love and a common purpose worked this marvel, for he who loves another, will do him no injury, and he who is bound to perfect a work with the help of another, will not hinder nor delay him. We two have long since found the right road, and if at any time one of us is inclined to cross the path of the other, we are held back by love and by our common duty, namely to shed a pure light on the path of our children."
Dorothea had never forgotten these words, and they came into her mind now again when Petrus held out his hand to her so warmly; as she laid hers in it, she said:
"For the sake of dear peace, well and good--but one thing I cannot leave unsaid. Soft-hearted weakness is not usually your defect, but you will utterly spoil Polykarp."
"Leave him, let us leave him as he is," cried Petrus, kissing his wife's brow. "It is strange how we have exchanged parts! Yesterday you were exhorting me to mildness towards the lad, and to-day--"
"To-day I am severer than you," interrupted Dorothea. "Who, indeed, could guess that an old graybeard would derogate from the duties of his office as father and as judge for the sake of a woman's smiling face in clay--as Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage?"
"And to whom would it occur," asked Petrus, taking up his wife's tone, "that so tender a mother as you would condemn her favorite son, because he labored to earn peace for his soul by a deed--by a work for which his master might envy him?"
"I have indeed observed," interrupted Dorothea, that Sirona's image has bewitched you, and you speak as if the boy had achieved some great miracle. I do not know much about modelling and sculpture, and I will not contradict you, but if the fair-haired creature's face were less pretty, and if Polykarp had not executed any thing remarkable, would it have made the smallest difference in what he has done and felt wrong? Certainly not. But that is just like men, they care only for success."
"And with perfect justice," answered Petrus, "if the success is attained, not in mere child's play, but by a severe struggle. 'To him, that hath, shall more be given,' says the scripture, and he who has a soul more richly graced than others have--he who is helped by good spirits--he shall be forgiven many things that even a mild judge would be unwilling to pardon in a man of poor gifts, who torments and exerts himself and yet brings nothing to perfection. Be kind to the boy again. Do you know what prospect lies before you through him? You yourself in your life have done much good, and spoken much wisdom, and I, and the children, and the people in this place, will never forget it all. But I can promise you the gratitude of the best and noblest who now live or who will live in centuries to come--for that you are the mother of Polykarp!"
"And people say," cried Dorothea, "that every mother has four eyes for her children's merits. If that is true, then fathers no doubt have ten, and you as many as Argus, of whom the heathen legend speaks--But there comes Polykarp."
Petrus went forward to meet his son, and gave him his hand, but in quite a different manner to what he had formerly shown; at least it seemed to Dorothea that her husband received the youth, no longer as his father and master, but as a friend greets a friend who is his equal in privileges and judgment. When Polykarp turned to greet her also she colored all over, for the thought flashed through her mind that her son, when he thought of the past night, must regard her as unjust or foolish; but she soon recovered her own calm equanimity, for Polykarp was the same as ever, and she read in his eyes that he felt towards her the same as yesterday and as ever.
"Love," thought she, "is not extinguished by injustice, as fire is by water. It blazes up brighter or less bright, no doubt, according to the way the wind blows, but it cannot be wholly smothered--least of all by death."
Polykarp had been up the mountain, and Dorothea was quite satisfied when he related what had led him thither. He had long since planned the execution of a statue of Moses, and when his father had left him, he could not get the tall and dignified figure of the old man out of his mind. He felt that he had found the right model for his work. He must, he would forget--and he knew, that he could only succeed if he found a task which might promise to give some new occupation to his bereaved soul. Still, he had seen the form of the mighty man of God which he proposed to model, only in vague outline before his mind's eye, and he had been prompted to go to a spot whither many pilgrims resorted, and which was known as the Place of Communion, because it was there that the Lord had spoken to Moses. There Polykarp had spent some time, for there, if anywhere--there, where the Law-giver himself had stood, must he find right inspiration.
"And you have accomplished your end?" asked his father.
Polykarp shook his head.
"If you go often enough to the sacred spot, it will come to you," said Dorothea. "The beginning is always the chief difficulty; only begin at once to model your father's head."
"I have already begun it," replied Polykarp, "but I am still tired from last night."
"You look pale, and have dark lines under your eyes," said Dorothea anxiously. "Go up stairs and he down to rest. I will follow you and bring you a beaker of old wine."
"That will not hurt him," said Petrus, thinking as he spoke--"A draught of Lethe would serve him even better."
When, an hour later, the senator sought his son in his work-room, he found him sleeping, and the wine stood untouched on the table. Petrus softly laid his hand on his son's forehead and found it cool and free from fever. Then he went quietly up to the portrait of Sirona, raised the cloth with which it was covered, and stood before it a long time sunk in thought. At last he drew back, covered it up again, and examined the models which stood on a shelf fastened to the wall.
A small female figure particularly fixed his attention, and he was taking it admiringly in his band when Polykarp awoke.
"That is the image of the goddess of fate--that is a Tyche," said Petrus.
"Do not be angry with me, father," entreated Polykarp. "You know, the figure of a Tyche is to stand in the hand of the statue of the Caesar that is intended for the new city of Constantine, and so I have tried to represent the goddess. The drapery and pose of the arms, I think, have succeeded, but I failed in the head." Petrus, who had listened to him with attention, glanced involuntarily at the head of Sirona, and Polykarp followed his eyes surprised and almost startled.
The father and son had understood each other, and Polykarp said, "I had already thought of that."
Then he sighed bitterly, and said to himself, "Yes and verily, she is the goddess of my fate." But he dared not utter this aloud.
But Petrus had heard him sigh, and said, "Let that pass. This head smiles with sweet fascination, and the countenance of the goddess that rules the actions even of the immortals, should be stern and grave."
Polykarp could contain himself no longer.
"Yes, father," he exclaimed. "Fate is terrible--and yet I will represent the goddess with a smiling mouth, for that which is most terrible in her is, that she rules not by stern laws, but smiles while she makes us her sport."
It was a splendid morning; not a cloud dimmed the sky which spread high above desert, mountain, and oasis, like an arched tent of uniform deep- blue silk. How delicious it is to breathe the pure, light, aromatic air on the heights, before the rays of the sun acquire their mid-day power, and the shadows of the heated porphyry cliffs, growing shorter and shorter, at last wholly disappear!
With what delight did Sirona inhale this pure atmosphere, when after a long night--the fourth that she had passed in the anchorite's dismal cave-she stepped out into the air. Paulus sat by the hearth, and was so busily engaged with some carving, that he did not observe her approach.
"Kind good man!" thought Sirona, as she perceived a steaming pot on the fire, and the palm-branches which the Alexandrian had fastened up by the entrance to the cave, to screen her from the mounting sun. She knew the way without a guide to the spring from which Paulus had brought her water at their first meeting, and she now slipped away, and went down to it with a pretty little pitcher of burnt clay in her hand. Paulus did indeed see her, but he made as though he neither, saw nor heard, for he knew she was going there to wash herself, and to dress and smarten herself as well as might be--for was she not a woman! When she returned,
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