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- Homo Sum, Volume 4. - 9/9 -


A deep gloom reigned around, and the feeble light of the little lamp lighted up only a small portion of the dismal chamber but the head, throat, and arms that it illuminated seemed to shine with a light of their own that enhanced and consecrated the light of the feeble flame. Paulus fell breathless on his knees, and fixed his eyes with growing eagerness on the graceful form of the sleeper.

Sirona was dreaming; her head, veiled in her golden hair, rested on a high pillow of herbs, and her delicately rosy face was turned up to the vault of the cave; her half-closed lips moved gently, and now she moved her bent arm and her white hand, on which the light of the lamp fell, and which rested half on her forehead and half on her shining hair.

"Is she saying anything?" asked Paulus of himself, and he pressed his brow against a projection of the rock as tightly as if he would stem the rapid rush of his blood that it might not overwhelm his bewildered brain.

Again she moved her lips. Had she indeed spoken? Had she perhaps called him?

That could not be, for she still slept; but he wished to believe it--and he would believe it, and he stole nearer to her and nearer, and bent over her, and listened--while his own strength failed him even to draw a breath--listened to the soft regular breathing that heaved her bosom. No longer master of himself he touched her white arm with his bearded lips and she drew it back in her sleep, then his gaze fell on her parted lips and the pearly teeth that shone between them, and a mad longing to kiss them came irresistibly over him. He bent trembling over her, and was on the point of gratifying his impulse when, as if startled by a sudden apparition, he drew back, and raised his eyes from the rosy lips to the hand that rested on the sleeper's brow.

The lamplight played on a golden ring on Sirona's finger, and shone brightly on an onyx on which was engraved an image of Tyche, the tutelary goddess of Antioch, with a sphere upon her head, and bearing Amalthea's horn in her hand.

A new and strange emotion took possession of the anchorite at the sight of this stone. With trembling hands he felt in the breast of his torn garment, and presently drew forth a small iron crucifix and the ring that he had taken from the cold hand of Hermas' mother. In the golden circlet was set an onyx, on which precisely the same device was visible as that on Sirona's hand. The string with its precious jewel fell from his grasp, he clutched his matted hair with both hands, groaned deeply, and repeated again and again, as though to crave forgiveness, the name of "Magdalen."

Then he called Sirona in a loud voice, and as she awoke excessively startled, he asked her in urgent tones: "Who gave you that ring?"

"It was a present from Phoebicius," replied she. "He said he had had it given to him many years since in Antioch, and that it had been engraved by a great artist. But I do not want it any more, and if you like to have it you may."

"Throw it away!" exclaimed Paulus, "it will bring you nothing but misfortune." Then he collected himself, went out into the air with his head sunk on his breast, and there, throwing himself down on the wet stones by the hearth, he cried out:

"Magdalen! dearest and purest! You, when you ceased to be Glycera, became a saintly martyr, and found the road to heaven; I too had my day of Damascus--of revelation and conversion--and I dared to call myself by the name of Paulus--and now--now?"

Plunged in despair he beat his forehead, groaning out, "All, all in vain!"

ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:

Can such love be wrong?


Homo Sum, Volume 4. - 9/9

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