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Title: Homo Sum — Complete
Author: Ebers, Georg
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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HOMO SUM, Complete

By Georg Ebers


Translated by Clara Bell



PREFACE.

In the course of my labors preparatory to writing a history of the
Sinaitic peninsula, the study of the first centuries of Christianity
for a long time claimed my attention; and in the mass of martyrology,
of ascetic writings, and of histories of saints and monks, which it was
necessary to work through and sift for my strictly limited object, I
came upon a narrative (in Cotelerius Ecclesiae Grecae Monumenta) which
seemed to me peculiar and touching notwithstanding its improbability.
Sinai and the oasis of Pharan which lies at its foot were the scene of
action.

When, in my journey through Arabia Petraea, I saw the caves of the
anchorites of Sinai with my own eyes and trod their soil with my own
feet, that story recurred to my mind and did not cease to haunt me while
I travelled on farther in the desert.

A soul’s problem of the most exceptional type seemed to me to be offered
by the simple course of this little history.

An anchorite, falsely accused instead of another, takes his punishment
of expulsion on himself without exculpating himself, and his innocence
becomes known only through the confession of the real culprit.

There was a peculiar fascination in imagining what the emotions of a
soul might be which could lead to such apathy, to such an annihilation
of all sensibility; and while the very deeds and thoughts of the strange
cave-dweller grew more and more vivid in my mind the figure of Paulus
took form, as it were as an example, and soon a crowd of ideas gathered
round it, growing at last to a distinct entity, which excited and urged
me on till I ventured to give it artistic expression in the form of a
narrative. I was prompted to elaborate this subject--which had long been
shaping itself to perfect conception in my mind as ripe material for a
romance--by my readings in Coptic monkish annals, to which I was led by
Abel’s Coptic studies; and I afterwards received a further stimulus
from the small but weighty essay by H. Weingarten on the origin of
monasticism, in which I still study the early centuries of Christianity,
especially in Egypt.

This is not the place in which to indicate the points on which I feel
myself obliged to differ from Weingarten. My acute fellow-laborer at
Breslau clears away much which does not deserve to remain, but in many
parts of his book he seems to me to sweep with too hard a broom.

Easy as it would have been to lay the date of my story in the beginning
of the fortieth year of the fourth century instead of the thirtieth, I
have forborne from doing so because I feel able to prove with certainty
that at the time which I have chosen there were not only heathen
recluses in the temples of Serapis but also Christian anchorites;
I fully agree with him that the beginnings of organized Christian
monasticism can in no case be dated earlier than the year 350.

The Paulus of my story must not be confounded with the “first hermit,”
 Paulus of Thebes, whom Weingarten has with good reason struck out of
the category of historical personages. He, with all the figures in
this narrative is a purely fictitious person, the vehicle for an idea,
neither more nor less. I selected no particular model for my hero, and
I claim for him no attribute but that of his having been possible at the
period; least of all did I think of Saint Anthony, who is now deprived
even of his distinguished biographer Athanasius, and who is represented
as a man of very sound judgment but of so scant an education that he was
master only of Egyptian.

The dogmatic controversies which were already kindled at the time of my
story I have, on careful consideration, avoided mentioning. The dwellers
on Sinai and in the oasis took an eager part in them at a later date.

That Mount Sinai to which I desire to transport the reader must not be
confounded with the mountain which lies at a long day’s journey to the
south of it. It is this that has borne the name, at any rate since the
time of Justinian; the celebrated convent of the Transfiguration lies at
its foot, and it has been commonly accepted as the Sinai of Scripture.
In the description of my journey through Arabia Petraea I have
endeavored to bring fresh proof of the view, first introduced by
Lepsius, that the giant-mountain, now called Serbal, must be regarded as
the mount on which the law was given--and was indeed so regarded before
the time of Justinian--and not the Sinai of the monks.

As regards the stone house of the Senator Petrus, with its windows
opening on the street--contrary to eastern custom--I may remark, in
anticipation of well founded doubts, that to this day wonderfully
well-preserved fire-proof walls stand in the oasis of Pharan, the
remains of a pretty large number of similar buildings.

But these and such external details hold a quite secondary place in this
study of a soul. While in my earlier romances the scholar was compelled
to make concessions to the poet and the poet to the scholar, in this one
I have not attempted to instruct, nor sought to clothe the outcome of my
studies in forms of flesh and blood; I have aimed at absolutely nothing
but to give artistic expression to the vivid realization of an idea that
had deeply stirred my soul. The simple figures whose inmost being I have
endeavored to reveal to the reader fill the canvas of a picture where,
in the dark background, rolls the flowing ocean of the world’s history.

The Latin title was suggested to me by an often used motto which
exactly agrees with the fundamental view to which I have been led by
my meditations on the mind and being of man; even of those men who deem
that they have climbed the very highest steps of that stair which leads
into the Heavens.

In the Heautontimorumenos of Terence, Chremes answers his neighbor
Menedemus (Act I, SC. I, v. 25) “Homo sum; humani nil a me alienum
puto,” which Donner translates literally:

“I am human, nothing that is human can I regard as alien to me.”

But Cicero and Seneca already used this line as a proverb, and in a
sense which far transcends that which it would seem to convey in context
with the passage whence it is taken; and as I coincide with them, I have
transferred it to the title-page of this book with this meaning:

“I am a man; and I feel that I am above all else a man.”

   Leipzig, November 11, 1877.

                    GEORG EBERS.



HOMO SUM



CHAPTER I.

Rocks-naked, hard, red-brown rocks all round; not a bush, not a blade,
not a clinging moss such as elsewhere nature has lightly flung on the
rocky surface of the heights, as if a breath of her creative life had
softly touched the barren stone. Nothing but smooth granite, and above
it a sky as bare of cloud as the rocks are of shrubs and herbs.

And yet in every cave of the mountain wall there moves a human life; two
small grey birds too float softly in the pure, light air of the desert
that glows in the noonday sun, and then they vanish behind a range of
cliffs, which shuts in the deep gorge as though it were a wall built by
man.

There it is pleasant enough, for a spring bedews the stony soil and
there, as wherever any moisture touches the desert, aromatic plants
thrive, and umbrageous bushes grow. When Osiris embraced the goddess of
the desert--so runs the Egyptian myth--he left his green wreath on her
couch.

But at the time and in the sphere where our history moves the old
legends are no longer known or are ignored. We must carry the reader
back to the beginning of the thirtieth year of the fourth century after
the birth of the Saviour, and away to the mountains of Sinai on
whose sacred ground solitary anchorites have for some few years been
dwelling--men weary of the world, and vowed to penitence, but as yet
without connection or rule among themselves.

Near the spring in the little ravine of which we have spoken grows
a many-branched feathery palm, but it does not shelter it from the
piercing rays of the sun of those latitudes; it seems only to protect
the roots of the tree itself; still the feathered boughs are strong
enough to support a small thread-bare blue cloth, which projects like a
penthouse, screening the face of a girl who lies dreaming, stretched at
full-length on the glowing stones, while a few yellowish mountain-goats
spring from stone to stone in search of pasture as gaily as though they
found the midday heat pleasant and exhilarating. From time to time the
girl seizes the herdsman’s crook that lies beside her, and calls the
goats with a hissing cry that is audible at a considerable distance.
A young kid comes dancing up to her. Few beasts can give expression to
their feelings of delight; but young goats can.

The girl puts out her bare slim foot, and playfully pushes back the
little kid who attacks her in fun, pushes it again and again each time
it skips forward, and in so doing the shepherdess bends her toes as
gracefully as if she wished some looker-on to admire their slender form.
Once more the kid springs forward, and this time with its bead down. Its
brow touches the sole of her foot, but as it rubs its little hooked nose
tenderly against the girl’s foot, she pushes it back so violently that
the little beast starts away, and ceases its game with loud bleating.

It was just as if the girl had been waiting for the right moment to hit
the kid sharply; for the kick was a hard one-almost a cruel one. The
blue cloth hid the face of the maiden, but her eyes must surely have
sparkled brightly when she so roughly stopped the game. For a minute she
remained motionless; but the cloth, which had fallen low over her
face, waved gently to and fro, moved by her fluttering breath. She
was listening with eager attention, with passionate expectation; her
convulsively clenched toes betrayed her.

Then a noise became audible; it came from the direction of the rough
stair of unhewn blocks, which led from the steep wall of the ravine down
to the spring. A shudder of terror passed through the tender, and not
yet fully developed limbs of the shepherdess; still she did not move;
the grey birds which were now sitting on a thorn-bush near her flew up,
but they had merely heard a noise, and could not distinguish who it was
that it announced.

The shepherdess’s ear was sharper than theirs. She heard that a man was
approaching, and well knew that one only trod with such a step. She put
out her hand for a stone that lay near her, and flung it into the spring
so that the waters immediately became troubled; then she turned on her
side, and lay as if asleep with her head on her arm. The heavy steps
became more and more distinctly audible.

A tall youth was descending the rocky stair; by his dress he was seen
to be one of the anchorites of Sinai, for he wore nothing but a
shirt-shaped garment of coarse linen, which he seemed to have outgrown,
and raw leather sandals, which were tied on to his feet with fibrous
palm-bast.

No slave could be more poorly clothed by his owner and yet no one would
have taken him for a bondman, for he walked erect and self-possessed.
He could not be more than twenty years of age; that was evident in the
young soft hair on his upper lip, chin, and cheeks; but in his large
blue eyes there shone no light of youth, only discontent, and his lips
were firmly closed as if in defiance.

He now stood still, and pushed back from his forehead the superabundant
and unkempt brown hair that flowed round his head like a lion’s mane;
then he approached the well, and as he stooped to draw the water in the
large dried gourd-shell which he held, he observed first that the spring
was muddy, and then perceived the goats, and at last their sleeping
mistress.

He impatiently set down the vessel and called the girl loudly, but she
did not move till he touched her somewhat roughly with his foot. Then
she sprang up as if stung by an asp, and two eyes as black as night
flashed at him out of her dark young face; the delicate nostrils of her
aquiline nose quivered, and her white teeth gleamed as she cried:

“Am I a dog that you wake me in this fashion?” He colored, pointed
sullenly to the well and said sharply: “Your cattle have troubled the
water again; I shall have to wait here till it is clear and I can draw
some.”

“The day is long,” answered the shepherdess, and while she rose she
pushed, as if by chance, another stone into the water.

Her triumphant, flashing glance as she looked down into the troubled
spring did not escape the young man, and he exclaimed angrily:

“He is right! You are a venomous snake--a demon of hell.”

She raised herself and made a face at him, as if she wished to show him
that she really was some horrible fiend; the unusual sharpness of her
mobile and youthful features gave her a particular facility for doing
so. And she fully attained her end, for he drew back with a look of
horror, stretched out his arms to repel her, and exclaimed as he saw her
uncontrollable laughter,

“Back, demon, back! In the name of the Lord! I ask thee, who art thou?”

“I am Miriam--who else should I be?” she answered haughtily.

He had expected a different reply, her vivacity annoyed him, and he said
angrily, “Whatever your name is you are a fiend, and I will ask Paulus
to forbid you to water your beasts at our well.”

“You might run to your nurse, and complain of me to her if you had one,”
 she answered, pouting her lips contemptuously at him.

He colored; she went on boldly, and with eager play of gesture.

“You ought to be a man, for you are strong and big, but you let yourself
be kept like a child or a miserable girl; your only business is to hunt
for roots and berries, and fetch water in that wretched thing there.
I have learned to do that ever since I was as big as that!” and she
indicated a contemptibly little measure, with the outstretched pointed
fingers of her two hands, which were not less expressively mobile than
her features. “Phoh! you are stronger and taller than all the Amalekite
lads down there, but you never try to measure yourself with them in
shooting with a bow and arrows or in throwing a spear!”

“If I only dared as much as I wish!” he interrupted, and flaming scarlet
mounted to his face, “I would be a match for ten of those lean rascals.”

“I believe you,” replied the girl, and her eager glance measured the
youth’s broad breast and muscular arms with an expression of pride. “I
believe you, but why do you not dare? Are you the slave of that man up
there?”

“He is my father and besides--”

“What besides?” she cried, waving her hand as if to wave away a bat. “If
no bird ever flew away from the nest there would be a pretty swarm in
it. Look at my kids there--as long as they need their mother they run
about after her, but as soon as they can find their food alone they seek
it wherever they can find it, and I can tell you the yearlings there
have quite forgotten whether they sucked the yellow dam or the brown
one. And what great things does your father do for you?”

“Silence!” interrupted the youth with excited indignation. “The evil one
speaks through thee. Get thee from me, for I dare not hear that which I
dare not utter.”

“Dare, dare, dare!” she sneered. “What do you dare then? not even to
listen!”

“At any rate not to what you have to say, you goblin!” he exclaimed
vehemently. “Your voice is hateful to me, and if I meet you again by the
well I will drive you away with stones.”

While he spoke thus she stared speechless at him, the blood had left
her lips, and she clenched her small hands. He was about to pass her
to fetch some water, but she stepped into his path, and held him
spell-bound with the fixed gaze of her eyes. A cold chill ran through
him when she asked him with trembling lips and a smothered voice, “What
harm have I done you?”

“Leave me!” said he, and he raised his hand to push her away from the
water.

“You shall not touch me,” she cried beside herself. “What harm have I
done you?”

“You know nothing of God,” he answered, “and he who is not of God is of
the Devil.”

“You do not say that of yourself,” answered she, and her voice recovered
its tone of light mockery. “What they let you believe pulls the wires of
your tongue just as a hand pulls the strings of a puppet. Who told you
that I was of the Devil?”

“Why should I conceal it from you?” he answered proudly. “Our pious
Paulus, warned me against you and I will thank him for it. ‘The evil
one,’ he says, ‘looks out of your eyes,’ and he is right, a thousand
times right. When you look at me I feel as if I could tread every thing
that is holy under foot; only last night again I dreamed I was whirling
in a dance with you--”

At these words all gravity and spite vanished from Miriam’s eyes; she
clapped her hands and cried, “If it had only been the fact and not a
dream! Only do not be frightened again, you fool! Do you know then what
it is when the pipes sound, and the lutes tinkle, and our feet fly round
in circles as if they had wings?”

“The wings of Satan,” Hermas interrupted sternly. “You are a demon, a
hardened heathen.”

“So says our pious Paulus,” laughed the girl.

“So say I too,” cried the young man. “Who ever saw you in the assemblies
of the just? Do you pray? Do you ever praise the Lord and our Saviour?”

“And what should I praise them for?” asked Miriam. “Because I am
regarded as a foul fiend by the most pious among you perhaps?”

“But it is because you are a sinner that Heaven denies you its
blessing.”

“No--no, a thousand times no!” cried Miriam. “No god has ever troubled
himself about me. And if I am not good, why should I be when nothing but
evil ever has fallen to my share? Do you know who I am and how I became
so? I was wicked, perhaps, when both my parents were slain in their
pilgrimage hither? Why, I was then no more than six years old, and what
is a child of that age? But still I very well remember that there were
many camels grazing near our house, and horses too that belonged to us,
and that on a hand that often caressed me--it was my mother’s hand--a
large jewel shone. I had a black slave too that obeyed me; when she and
I did not agree I used to hang on to her grey woolly hair and beat her.
Who knows what may have become of her? I did not love her, but if I had
her now, how kind I would be to her. And now for twelve years I myself
have eaten the bread of servitude, and have kept Senator Petrus’s goats,
and if I ventured to show myself at a festival among the free maidens,
they would turn me out and pull the wreath out of my hair. And am I to
be thankful? What for, I wonder? And pious? What god has taken any care
of me? Call me an evil demon--call me so! But if Petrus and your Paulus
there say that He who is up above us and who let me grow up to such a
lot is good, they tell a lie. God is cruel, and it is just like Him
to put it into your heart to throw stones and scare me away from your
well.”

With these words she burst out into bitter sobs, and her features worked
with various and passionate distortion.

Hermas felt compassion for the weeping Miriam. He had met her a hundred
times and she had shown herself now haughty, now discontented, now
exacting and now wrathful, but never before soft or sad. To-day, for the
first time, she had opened her heart to him; the tears which disfigured
her countenance gave her character a value which it had never before had
in his eyes, and when he saw her weak and unhappy he felt ashamed of his
hardness. He went up to her kindly and said: “You need not cry; come to
the well again always, I will not prevent you.”

His deep voice sounded soft and kind as he spoke, but she sobbed more
passionately than before, almost convulsively, and she tried to speak
but she could not. Trembling in every slender limb, shaken with grief,
and overwhelmed with sorrow, the slight shepherdess stood before him,
and he felt as if he must help her. His passionate pity cut him to the
heart and fettered his by no means ready tongue.

As he could find no word of comfort, he took the water-gourd in his left
hand and laid his right, in which he had hitherto held it, gently on her
shoulder. She started, but she let him do it; he felt her warm breath;
he would have drawn back, but he felt as if he could not; he hardly knew
whether she was crying or laughing while she let his hand rest on her
black waving hair.

She did not move. At last she raised her head, her eyes flashed into
his, and at the same instant he felt two slender arms clasped round his
neck. He felt as if a sea were roaring in his ears, and fire blazing in
his eyes. A nameless anguish seized him; he tore himself violently free,
and with a loud cry as if all the spirits of hell were after him he fled
up the steps that led from the well, and heeded not that his water-jar
was shattered into a thousand pieces against the rocky wall.

She stood looking after him as if spell-bound. Then she struck her
slender hand against her forehead, threw herself down by the spring
again and stared into space; there she lay motionless, only her mouth
continued to twitch.

When the shadow of the palm-tree grew longer she sprang up, called
her goats, and looked up, listening, to the rock-steps by which he had
vanished; the twilight is short in the neighborhood of the tropics, and
she knew that she would be overtaken by the darkness on the stony and
fissured road down the valley if she lingered any longer. She feared
the terrors of the night, the spirits and demons, and a thousand vague
dangers whose nature she could not have explained even to herself; and
yet she did not stir from the spot nor cease listening and waiting for
his return till the sun had disappeared behind the sacred mountain, and
the glow in the west had paled.

All around was as still as death, she could hear herself breathe, and as
the evening chill fell she shuddered with cold.

She now heard a loud noise above her head. A flock of wild mountain
goats, accustomed to come at this hour to quench their thirst at the
spring, came nearer and nearer, but drew back as they detected the
presence of a human being. Only the leader of the herd remained standing
on the brink of the ravine, and she knew that he was only awaiting her
departure to lead the others down to drink. Following a kindly impulse,
she was on the point of leaving to make way for the animals, when she
suddenly recollected Hermas’s threat to drive her from the well, and she
angrily picked up a stone and flung it at the buck, which started and
hastily fled. The whole herd followed him. Miriam listened to them as
they scampered away, and then, with her head sunk, she led her flock
home, feeling her way in the darkness with her bare feet.



CHAPTER II.

High above the ravine where the spring was lay a level plateau of
moderate extent, and behind it rose a fissured cliff of bare, red-brown
porphyry. A vein of diorite of iron-hardness lay at its foot like a
green ribbon, and below this there opened a small round cavern, hollowed
and arched by the cunning hand of nature. In former times wild beasts,
panthers or wolves, had made it their home; it now served as a dwelling
for young Hermas and his father.

Many similar caves were to be found in the holy Fountain, and other
anchorites had taken possession of the larger ones among them.

That of Stephanus was exceptionally high and deep, and yet the space was
but small which divided the two beds of dried mountain herbs where, on
one, slept the father, and on the other, the son.

It was long past midnight, but neither the younger nor the elder
cave-dweller seemed to be sleeping. Hermas groaned aloud and threw
himself vehemently from one side to the other without any consideration
for the old man who, tormented with pain and weakness, sorely needed
sleep. Stephanus meanwhile denied himself the relief of turning over or
of sighing, when he thought he perceived that his more vigorous son had
found rest.

“What could have robbed him of his rest, the boy who usually slept so
soundly, and was so hard to waken?”

“Whence comes it,” thought Stephanus, “that the young and strong sleep
so soundly and so much, and the old, who need rest, and even the sick,
sleep so lightly and so little. Is it that wakefulness may prolong the
little term of life, of which they dread the end? How is it that man
clings so fondly to this miserable existence, and would fain slink away,
and hide himself when the angel calls and the golden gates open before
him! We are like Saul, the Hebrew, who hid himself when they came to
him with the crown! My wound burns painfully; if only I had a drink of
water. If the poor child were not so sound asleep I might ask him for
the jar.”

Stephanus listened to his son and would not wake him, when he heard his
heavy and regular breathing. He curled himself up shivering under the
sheep-skin which covered only half his body, for the icy night wind
now blew through the opening of the cave, which by day was as hot as an
oven.

Some long minutes wore away; at last he thought he perceived that Hermas
had raised himself. Yes, the sleeper must have wakened, for he began to
speak, and to call on the name of God.

The old man turned to his son and began softly, “Do you hear me, my
boy?”

“I cannot sleep,” answered the youth.

“Then give me something to drink,” asked Stephanus, “my wound burns
intolerably.”

Hermas rose at once, and reached the water-jar to the sufferer.

“Thanks, thanks, my child,” said the old man, feeling for the neck of
the jar. But he could not find it, and exclaimed with surprise: “How
damp and cold it is--this is clay, and our jar was a gourd.”

“I have broken it,” interrupted Hermas, “and Paulus lent me his.”

“Well, well,” said Stephanus anxious for drink; he gave the jar back to
his son, and waited till he had stretched himself again on his couch.
Then he asked anxiously: “You were out a long time this evening, the
gourd is broken, and you groaned in your sleep. Whom did you meet?”

“A demon of hell,” answered Hermas. “And now the fiend pursues me into
our cave, and torments me in a variety of shapes.”

“Drive it out then and pray,” said the old man gravely. “Unclean spirits
flee at the name of God.”

“I have called upon Him,” sighed Hermas, “but in vain; I see women with
ruddy lips and flowing Hair, and white marble figures with rounded limbs
and flashing eyes beckon to me again and again.”

“Then take the scourge,” ordered the father, “and so win peace.”

Hermas once more obediently rose, and went out into the air with the
scourge; the narrow limits of the cave did not admit of his swinging it
with all the strength of his arms.

Very soon Stephanus heard the whistle of the leathern thongs through the
stillness of the night, their hard blows on the springy muscles of the
man and his son’s painful groaning.

At each blow the old man shrank as if it had fallen on himself. At last
he cried as loud as he was able “Enough--that is enough.”

Hermas came back into the cave, his father called him to his couch, and
desired him to join with him in prayer.

After the ‘Amen’ he stroked the lad’s abundant hair and said, “Since
you went to Alexandria, you have been quite another being. I would I had
withstood bishop Agapitus, and forbidden you the journey. Soon, I know,
my Saviour will call me to himself, and no one will keep you here; then
the tempter will come to you, and all the splendors of the great city,
which after all only shine like rotten wood, like shining snakes and
poisonous purple-berries--”

“I do not care for them,” interrupted Hermas, “the noisy place
bewildered and frightened me. Never, never will I tread the spot again.”

“So you have always said,” replied Stephanus, “and yet the journey quite
altered you. How often before that I used to think when I heard you
laugh that the sound must surely please our Father in Heaven. And now?
You used to be like a singing bird, and now you go about silent, you
look sour and morose, and evil thoughts trouble your sleep.”

“That is my loss,” answered Hermas. “Pray let go of my hand; the night
will soon be past, and you have the whole live-long day to lecture me
in.” Stephanus sighed, and Hermas returned to his couch.

Sleep avoided them both, and each knew that the other was awake, and
would willingly have spoken to him, but dissatisfaction and defiance
closed the son’s lips, and the father was silent because he could not
find exactly the heart-searching words that he was seeking.

At last it was morning, a twilight glimmer struck through the opening of
the cave, and it grew lighter and lighter in the gloomy vault; the boy
awoke and rose yawning. When he saw his father lying with his eyes open,
he asked indifferently, “Shall I stay here or go to morning worship?”

“Let us pray here together,” begged the father. “Who knows how long it
may yet be granted to us to do so? I am not far from the day that no
evening ever closes. Kneel down here, and let me kiss the image of the
Crucified.”

Hermas did as his father desired him, and as they were ending their song
of praise, a third voice joined in the ‘Amen.’

“Paulus!” cried the old man. “The Lord be praised! pray look to my
wound then. The arrow head seeks to work some way out, and it burns
fearfully.”

“The new comer, an anchorite, who for all clothing wore a shirt-shaped
coat of brown undressed linen, and a sheep-skin, examined the wound
carefully, and laid some herbs on it, murmuring meanwhile some pious
texts.

“That is much easier,” sighed the old man. “The Lord has mercy on me for
your goodness’ sake.”

“My goodness? I am a vessel of wrath,” replied Paulus, with a deep,
rich; sonorous voice, and his peculiarly kind blue eyes were raised to
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 man’s feeble flame of life had threatened to become altogether
extinct after these deeply soul-stirring exercises, and Hermas would
gladly have forbidden him giving himself up to such hurtful emotions,
for he loved his father; but they were looked upon as special
manifestations of grace, and how should a son dare to express his
aversion to such peculiarly sacred acts? But to Paulus and in his
present mood he found courage to speak out.

“I have sure hope of Paradise,” he said, “but it will be first opened
to us after death. The Christian should be patient; why can you not wait
for Heaven till the Saviour calls you, instead of desiring to enjoy its
pleasures here on earth? This first and that after! Why Should God
have bestowed on us the gifts of the flesh if not that we may use them?
Beauty and strength are not empty trifles, and none but a fool gives
noble gifts to another, only in order to throw them away.”

Paulus gazed in astonishment at the youth, who up to this moment had
always unresistingly obeyed his father and him, and he shook his head as
he answered,

“So think the children of this world who stand far from the Most High.
In the image of God are we made no doubt, but what child would kiss the
image of his father, when the father offers him his own living lips?”

Paulus had meant to say ‘mother’ instead of ‘father,’ but he remembered
in time that Hermas had early lost the happiness of caressing a mother,
and he had hastily amended the phrase. He was one of those to whom it is
so painful to hurt another, that they never touch a wounded soul unless
to heal it, divining the seat of even the most hidden pain.

He was accustomed to speak but little, but now he went on eagerly:

“By so much as God is far above our miserable selves, by so much is
the contemplation of Him worthier of the Christian than that of his own
person. Oh! who is indeed so happy as to have wholly lost that self and
to be perfectly absorbed in God! But it pursues us, and when the soul
fondly thinks itself already blended in union with the Most High it
cries out ‘Here am I!’ and drags our nobler part down again into the
dust. It is bad enough that we must hinder the flight of the soul, and
are forced to nourish and strengthen the perishable part of our being
with bread and water and slothful sleep to the injury of the immortal
part, however much we may fast and watch. And shall we indulge the
flesh, to the detriment of the spirit, by granting it any of its demands
that can easily be denied? Only he who despises and sacrifices his
wretched self can, when he has lost his baser self by the Redeemer’s
grace, find himself again in God.”

Hermas had listened patiently to the anchorite, but he now shook his
head, and said: “I cannot under stand either you or my father. So long
as I walk on this earth, I am I and no other. After death, no doubt, but
not till then, will a new and eternal life begin.”

“Not so,” cried Paulus hastily, interrupting him. “That other and higher
life of which you speak, does not begin only after death for him who
while still living does not cease from dying, from mortifying the flesh,
and from subduing its lusts, from casting from him the world and his
baser self, and from seeking the Lord. It has been vouchsafed to many
even in the midst of life to be born again to a higher existence. Look
at me, the basest of the base. I am not two but one, and yet am I in the
sight of the Lord as certainly another man than I was before grace found
me, as this young shoot, which has grown from the roots of an overthrown
palmtree is another tree than the rotten trunk. I was a heathen and
enjoyed every pleasure of the earth to the utmost; then I became a
Christian; the grace of the Lord fell upon me, and I was born again, and
became a child again; but this time--the Redeemer be praised!--the child
of the Lord. In the midst of life I died, I rose again, I found the joys
of Heaven. I had been Menander, and like unto Saul, I became Paulus. All
that Menander loved--baths, feasts, theatres, horses and chariots, games
in the arena, anointed limbs, roses and garlands, purple-garments, wine
and the love of women--lie behind me like some foul bog out of which
a traveller has struggled with difficulty. Not a vein of the old man
survives in the new, and a new life has begun for me, mid-way to the
grave; nor for me only, but for all pious men. For you too the hour will
sound, in which you will die to--”

“If only I, like you, had been a Menander,” cried Hermas, sharply
interrupting the speaker: “How is it possible to cast away that which I
never possessed? In order to die one first must live. This wretched life
seems to me contemptible, and I am weary of running after you like a
calf after a cow. I am free-born, and of noble race, my father himself
has told me so, and I am certainly no feebler in body than the
citizens’ sons in the town with whom I went from the baths to the
wrestling-school.”

“Did you go to the Palaestra?” asked Paulus in surprise.

“To the wrestling-school of Timagetus,” cried Hermas, coloring. “From
outside the gate I watched the games of the youths as they wrestled, and
threw heavy disks at a mark. My eyes almost sprang out of my head at
the sight, and I could have cried out aloud with envy and vexation,
at having to stand there in my ragged sheep-skin excluded from all
competition. If Pachomius had not just then come up, by the Lord I must
have sprung into the arena, and have challenged the strongest of them
all to wrestle with me, and I could have thrown the disk much farther
than the scented puppy who won the victory and was crowned.”

“You may thank, Pachomius,” said Paulus laughing, “for having hindered
you, for you would have earned nothing in the arena but mockery
and disgrace. You are strong enough, certainly, but the art of the
discobolus must be learned like any other. Hercules himself would be
beaten at that game without practice, and if he did not know the right
way to handle the disk.”

“It would not have been the first time I had thrown one,” cried the boy.
“See, what I can do!” With these words he stooped and raised one of the
flat stones, which lay piled up to secure the pathway; extending his arm
with all his strength, he flung the granite disk over the precipice away
into the abyss.

“There, you see,” cried Paulus, who had watched the throw carefully and
not without some anxious excitement. “However strong your arm may be,
any novice could throw farther than you if only he knew the art of
holding the discus. It is not so--not so; it must cut through the air
like a knife with its sharp edge. Look how you hold your hand, you throw
like a woman! The wrist straight, and now your left foot behind, and
your knee bent! see, how clumsy you are! Here, give me the stone. You
take the discus so, then you bend your body, and press down your knees
like the arc of a bow, so that every sinew in your body helps to speed
the shot when you let go. Aye--that is better, but it is not quite right
yet. First heave the discus with your arm stretched out, then fix your
eye on the mark; now swing it out high behind you--stop! once more! your
arm must be more strongly strained before you throw. That might pass,
but you ought to be able to hit the palm-tree yonder. Give me
your discus, and that stone. There; the unequal corners hinder its
flight--now pay attention!” Paulus spoke with growing eagerness, and now
he grasped the flat stone, as he might have done many years since when
no youth in Alexandria had been his match in throwing the discus.

He bent his knees, stretched out his body, gave play to his wrist,
extended his arm to the utmost and hurled the stone into space, while
the clenched toes of his right foot deeply dinted the soil.

But it fell to the ground before reaching which Paulus had indicated as
the mark.

“Wait!” cried Hermas. “Let me try now to hit the tree.”

His stone whistled through the air, but it did not even reach the mound,
into which the palm-tree had struck root.

Paulus shook his head disapprovingly, and in his, turn seized a flat
stone; and now an eager contest began. At every throw Hermas’ stone flew
farther, for he copied his teacher’s action and grasp with increasing
skill, while the older man’s arm began to tire. At last Hermas for the
second time hit the palm-tree, while Paulus had failed to reach even the
mound with his last fling.

The pleasure of the contest took stronger possession of the anchorite;
he flung his raiment from him, and seizing another stone he cried
out--as though he were standing once more in the wrestling school among
his old companions; all shining with their anointment.

“By the silver-bowed Apollo, and the arrow-speeding Artemis, I will hit
the palm-tree.”

The missile sang through the air, his body sprang back, and he stretched
out his left arm to save his tottering balance; there was a crash, the
tree quivered under the blow, and Hermas shouted joyfully: “Wonderful!
wonderful! that was indeed a throw. The old Menander is not dead!
Farewell--to-morrow we will try again.”

With these words Hermas quitted the anchorite, and hastened with wide
leaps down the hill in the oasis. Paulus started at the words like a
sleep-walker who is suddenly wakened by hearing his name called. He
looked about him in bewilderment, as if he had to find his way in some
strange world. Drops of sweat stood on his brow, and with sudden shame
he snatched up his garments that were lying on the ground, and covered
his naked limbs.

For some time he stood gazing after Hermas, then he clasped his brow in
deep anguish and large tears ran down upon his beard.

“What have I said?” he muttered to himself; “That every vein of the old
man in me was extirpated? Fool! vain madman that I am. They named me
Paulus, and I am in truth Saul, aye, and worse than Saul!”

With these words he threw himself on his knees, pressing his forehead
against the hard rock, and began to pray. He felt as if he had been
flung from a height on to spears and lances, as if his heart and soul
were bleeding, and while he remained there, dissolved in grief and
prayer, accusing and condemning himself, he felt not the burning of the
sun as it mounted in the sky, heeded not the flight of time, nor heard
the approach of a party of pilgrims, who, under the guidance of bishop
Agapitus, were visiting the Holy Places. The palmers saw him at prayer,
heard his sobs, and, marvelling at his piety, at a sign from their
pastor they knelt down behind him.

When Paulus at last arose, he perceived with surprise and alarm the
witnesses of his devotions, and approached Agapitus to kiss his robe.
But the bishop said: “Not so; he that is most pious is the greatest
among us. My friends, let us bow down before this saintly man!”

The pilgrims obeyed his command. Paulus hid his face in his hands and
sobbed out: “Wretch, wretch that I am!”

And the pilgrims lauded his humility, and followed their leader who left
the spot.



CHAPTER III.

Hermas had hastened onwards without delay. He had already reached the
last bend of the path he had followed down the ravine, and he saw at his
feet the long narrow valley and the gleaming waters of the stream, which
here fertilized the soil of the desert. He looked down on lofty palms
and tamarisk shrubs innumerable, among which rose the houses of
the inhabitants, surrounded by their little gardens and small
carefully-irrigated fields; already he could hear the crowing of a cock
and the hospitable barking of a dog, sounds which came to him like a
welcome from the midst of that life for which he yearned, accustomed as
he was to be surrounded day and night by the deep and lonely stillness
of the rocky heights.

He stayed his steps, and his eyes followed the thin columns of smoke,
which floated tremulously up in the clear light of the ever mounting sun
from the numerous hearths that lay below him.

“They are cooking breakfast now,” thought he, “the wives for their
husbands, the mothers for their children, and there, where that dark
smoke rises, very likely a splendid feast is being prepared for guests;
but I am nowhere at home, and no one will invite me in.” The contest
with Paulus had excited and cheered him, but the sight of the city
filled his young heart with renewed bitterness, and his lips trembled
as he looked down on his sheepskin and his unwashed limbs. With hasty
resolve he turned his back on the oasis and hurried up the mountain.
By the side of the brooklet that he knew of he threw off his coarse
garment, let the cool water flow over his body, washed himself carefully
and with much enjoyment, stroked clown his thick hair with his fingers,
and then hurried down again into the valley.

The gorge through which he had descended debouched by a hillock that
rose from the valley-plain; a small newly-built church leaned against
its eastern declivity, and it was fortified on all sides by walls and
dikes, behind which the citizens found shelter when they were threatened
by the Saracen robbers of the oasis. This hill passed for a particularly
sacred spot. Moses was supposed to have prayed on its summit during the
battle with the Amalekites while his arms were held up by Aaron and Hur.

But there were other notable spots in the neighborhood of the oasis.
There farther to the north was the rock whence Moses had struck the
water; there higher up, and more to the south-east, was the hill, where
the Lord had spoken to the law-giver face to face, and where he had
seen the burning bush; there again was the spring where he had met the
daughters of Jethro, Zippora and Ledja, so called in the legend. Pious
pilgrims came to these holy places in great numbers, and among them many
natives of the peninsula, particularly Nabateans, who had previously
visited the holy mountain in order to sacrifice on its summit to their
gods, the sun, moon, and planets. At the outlet, towards the north,
stood a castle, which ever since the Syrian Prefect, Cornelius Palma,
had subdued Arabia Petraea in the time of Trajan, had been held by a
Roman garrison for the protection of the blooming city of the desert
against the incursions of the marauding Saracens and Blemmyes.

But the citizens of Pharan themselves had taken measures for the
security of their property. On the topmost cliffs of the jagged crown
of the giant mountain--the most favorable spots for a look-out far and
wide--they placed sentinels, who day and night scanned the distance, so
as to give a warning-signal in case of approaching clanger. Each house
resembled a citadel, for it was built of strong masonry, and the younger
men were all well exercised bowmen. The more distinguished families
dwelt near the church-hill, and there too stood the houses of the Bishop
Agapitus, and of the city councillors of Pharan.

Among these the Senator Petrus enjoyed the greatest respect, partly
by reason of his solid abilities, and of his possessions in quarries,
garden-ground, date palms, and cattle; partly in consequence of the rare
qualities of his wife, the deaconess Dorothea, the granddaughter of the
long-deceased and venerable Bishop Chaeremon, who had fled hither with
his wife during the persecution of the Christians under Decius, and who
had converted many of the Pharanites to the knowledge of the Redeemer.

The house of Petrus was of strong and well-joined stone, and the palm
garden adjoining was carefully tended. Twenty slaves, many camels, and
even two horses belonged to him, and the centurion in command of the
Imperial garrison, the Gaul Phoebicius, and his wife Sirona, lived as
lodgers under his roof; not quite to the satisfaction of the councillor,
for the centurion was no Christian, but a worshipper of Mithras, in
whose mysteries the wild Gaul had risen to the grade of a ‘Lion,’ whence
his people, and with them the Pharanites in general, were wont to speak
of him as “the Lion.”

His predecessor had been an officer of much lower rank but a believing
Christian, whom Petrus had himself requested to live in his house, and
when, about a year since, the Lion Phoebicius had taken the place of the
pious Pankratius, the senator could not refuse him the quarters, which
had become a right.

Hermas went shyly and timidly towards the court of Petrus’ house, and
his embarrassment increased when he found himself in the hall of the
stately stone-house, which he had entered without let or hindrance, and
did not know which way to turn. There was no one there to direct him,
and he dared not go up the stairs which led to the upper story, although
it seemed that Petrus must be there. Yes, there was no doubt, for he
heard talking overhead and clearly distinguished the senator’s deep
voice. Hermas advanced, and set his foot on the first step of the
stairs; but he had scarcely begun to go up with some decision, and
feeling ashamed of his bashfulness, when he heard a door fly open just
above him, and from it there poured a flood of fresh laughing children’s
voices, like a pent up stream when the miller opens the sluice gate.

He glanced upwards in surprise, but there was no time for consideration,
for the shouting troop of released little ones had already reached the
stairs. In front of all hastened a beautiful young woman with golden
hair; she was laughing gaily, and held a gaudily-dressed doll high above
her head. She came backwards towards the steps, turning her fair face
beaming with fun and delight towards the children, who, full of their
longing, half demanding, half begging, half laughing, half crying,
shouted in confusion, “Let us be, Sirona,” “Do not take it away again,
Sirona,” “Do stay here, Sirona,” again and again, “Sirona--Sirona.”

A lovely six year old maiden stretched up as far as she could to reach
the round white arm that held the play-thing; with her left hand, which
was free, she gaily pushed away three smaller children, who tried to
cling to her knees and exclaimed, still stepping backwards, “No, no; you
shall not have it till it has a new gown; it shall be as long and as gay
as the Emperors’s robe. Let me go, Caecilia, or you will fall down as
naughty Nikon did the other day.”

By this time she had reached the steps; she turned suddenly, and with
outstretched arms she stopped the way of the narrow stair on which
Hermas was standing, gazing open-mouthed at the merry scene above his
head. Just as Sirona was preparing to run down, she perceived him and
started; but when she saw that the anchorite from pure embarrassment
could find no words in which to answer her question as to what he
wanted, she laughed heartily again and called out: “Come up, we shall
not hurt you--shall we children?”

Meanwhile Hermas had found courage enough to give utterance to his
wish to speak with the senator, and the young woman, who looked with
complacency on his strong and youthful frame, offered to conduct him to
him.

Petrus had been talking to his grown up elder sons; they were tall men,
but their father was even taller than they, and of unusual breadth of
shoulder.

While the young men were speaking, he stroked his short grey beard and
looked down at the ground in sombre gravity, as it might have seemed
to the careless observer; but any one who looked closer might quickly
perceive that not seldom a pleased smile, though not less often a
somewhat bitter one, played upon the lips of the prudent and judicious
man. He was one of those who can play with their children like a young
mother, take the sorrows of another as much to heart as if they were
their own, and yet who look so gloomy, and allow themselves to make such
sharp speeches, that only those who are on terms of perfect confidence
with them, cease to misunderstand them and fear them. There was
something fretting the soul of this man, who nevertheless possessed all
that could contribute to human happiness. His was a thankful nature,
and yet he was conscious that he might have been destined to something
greater than fate had permitted him to achieve or to be. He had remained
a stone-cutter, but his sons had both completed their education in good
schools in Alexandria. The elder, Antonius, who already had a house of
his own and a wife and children, was an architect and artist-mechanic;
the younger, Polykarp, was a gifted young sculptor. The noble church
of the oasis-city had been built under the direction of the elder;
Polykarp, who had only come home a month since, was preparing to
establish and carry on works of great extent in his father’s quarries,
for he had received a commission to decorate the new court of
the Sebasteion or Caesareum, as it was called--a grand pile in
Alexandria--with twenty granite lions. More than thirty artists had
competed with him for this work, but the prize was unanimously adjudged
to his models by qualified judges. The architect whose function it was
to construct the colonnades and pavement of the court was his friend,
and had agreed to procure the blocks of granite, the flags and the
columns which he required from Petrus’ quarries, and not, as had
formerly been the custom, from those of Syene by the first Cataract.

Antonius and Polykarp were now standing with their father before a large
table, explaining to him a plan which they had worked out together and
traced on the thin wax surface of a wooden tablet. The young architect’s
proposal was to bridge over a deep but narrow gorge, which the beasts of
burden were obliged to avoid by making a wide circuit, and so to make a
new way from the quarries to the sea, which should be shorter by a third
than the old one. The cost of this structure would soon be recouped
by the saving in labor, and with perfect certainty, if only the
transport-ships were laden at Clysma with a profitable return freight
of Alexandrian manufactures, instead of returning empty as they
had hitherto done. Petrus, who could shine as a speaker in the
council-meetings, in private life spoke but little. At each of his son’s
new projects he raised his eyes to the speaker’s face, as if to see
whether the young man had not lost his wits, while his mouth, only half
hidden by his grey beard, smiled approvingly.

When Antonius began to unfold his plan for remedying the inconvenience
of the ravine that impeded the way, the senator muttered, “Only get
feathers to grow on the slaves, and turn the black ones into ravens and
the white ones into gulls, and then they might fly across. What do not
people learn in the metropolis!”

When he heard the word ‘bridge’ he stared at the young artist. “The only
question,” said he, “is whether Heaven will lend us a rainbow.” But when
Polykarp proposed to get some cedar trunks from Syria through his friend
in Alexandria, and when his elder son explained his drawings of the arch
with which he promised to span the gorge and make it strong and safe,
he followed their words with attention; at the same time he knit his
eyebrows as gloomily and looked as stern as if he were listening to some
narrative of crime. Still, he let them speak on to the end, and though
at first he only muttered that it was mere “fancy-work” or “Aye, indeed,
if I were the emperor;” he afterwards asked clear and precise questions,
to which he received positive and well considered answers. Antonius
proved by figures that the profit on the delivery of material for the
Caesareum only would cover more than three quarters of the outlay.
Then Polykarp began to speak and declared that the granite of the Holy
Mountain was finer in color and in larger blocks than that from Syene.

“We work cheaper here than at the Cataract,” interrupted Antonius. “And
the transport of the blocks will not come too dear when we have the
bridge and command the road to the sea, and avail ourselves of the
canal of Trajan, which joins the Nile to the Red Sea, and which in a few
months will again be navigable.”

“And if my lions are a success,” added Polykarp, “and if Zenodotus is
satisfied with our stone and our work, it may easily happen that we
outstrip Syene in competition, and that some of the enormous orders that
now flow from Constantine’s new residence to the quarries at Syene, may
find their way to us.”

“Polykarp is not over sanguine,” continued Antonius, “for the emperor is
beautifying and adding to Byzantium with eager haste. Whoever erects a
new house has a yearly allowance of corn, and in order to attract folks
of our stamp--of whom he cannot get enough--he promises entire exemption
from taxation to all sculptors, architects, and even to skilled
laborers. If we finish the blocks and pillars here exactly to the
designs, they will take up no superfluous room in the ships, and no one
will be able to deliver them so cheaply as we.”

“No, nor so good,” cried Polykarp, “for you yourself are an artist,
father, and understand stone-work as well as any man. I never saw a
finer or more equally colored granite than the block you picked out for
my first lion. I am finishing it here on the spot, and I fancy it will
make a show. Certainly it will be difficult to take a foremost place
among the noble works of the most splendid period of art, which already
fill the Caesareum, but I will do my best.”

“The Lions will be admirable,” cried Antonius with a glance of pride
at his brother. “Nothing like them has been done by any one these ten
years, and I know the Alexandrians. If the master’s work is praised that
is made out of granite from the Holy Mountain, all the world will have
granite from thence and from no where else. It all depends on whether
the transport of the stone to the sea can be made less difficult and
costly.”

“Let us try it then,” said Petrus, who during his son’s talk had walked
up and down before them in silence. “Let us try the building of the
bridge in the name of the Lord. We will work out the road if the
municipality will declare themselves ready to bear half the cost; not
otherwise, and I tell you frankly, you have both grown most able men.”

The younger son grasped his father’s hand and pressed it with warm
affection to his lips. Petrus hastily stroked his brown locks, then
he offered his strong right hand to his eldest-born and said: “We must
increase the number of our slaves. Call your mother, Polykarp.” The
youth obeyed with cheerful alacrity, and when Dame Dorothea--who was
sitting at the loom with her daughter Marthana and some of her female
slaves--saw him rush into the women’s room with a glowing face, she rose
with youthful briskness in spite of her stout and dignified figure, and
called out to her son:

“He has approved of your plans?”

“Bridge and all, mother, everything,” cried the young man. “Finer
granite for my lions, than my father has picked out for me is nowhere
to be found, and how glad I am for Antonius! only we must have patience
about the roadway. He wants to speak to you at once.”

Dorothea signed to her son to moderate his ecstasy, for he had seized
her hand, and was pulling her away with him, but the tears that stood
in her kind eyes testified how deeply she sympathized in her favorite’s
excitement.

“Patience, patience, I am coming directly,” cried she, drawing away her
hand in order to arrange her dress and her grey hair, which was abundant
and carefully dressed, and formed a meet setting for her still pleasing
and unwrinkled face.

“I knew it would be so; when you have a reasonable thing to propose to
your father, he will always listen to you and agree with you without my
intervention; women should not mix themselves up with men’s work. Youth
draws a strong bow and often shoots beyond the mark. It would be a
pretty thing if out of foolish affection for you I were to try to
play the siren that should ensnare the steersman of the house--your
father--with flattering words. You laugh at the grey-haired siren? But
love overlooks the ravages of years and has a good memory for all that
was once pleasing. Besides, men have not always wax in their ears when
they should have. Come now to your father.”

Dorothea went out past Polykarp and her daughter. The former held his
sister back by the hand and asked--“Was not Sirona with you?”

The sculptor tried to appear quite indifferent, but he blushed as he
spoke; Marthana observed this and replied not without a roguish glance:
“She did show us her pretty face; but important business called her
away.”

“Sirona?” asked Polykarp incredulously.

“Certainly, why not!” answered Marthana laughing. “She had to sew a new
gown for the children’s doll.”

“Why do you mock at her kindness?” said Polykarp reproachfully.

“How sensitive you are!” said Marthana softly. “Sirona is as kind and
sweet as an angel; but you had better look at her rather less, for she
is not one of us, and repulsive as the choleric centurion is to me--”

She said no more, for Dame Dorothea, having reached the door of the
sitting-room, looked around for her children.

Petrus received his wife with no less gravity than was usual with him,
but there was an arch sparkle in his half closed eyes as he asked: “You
scarcely know what is going on, I suppose?”

“You are madmen, who would fain take Heaven by storm,” she answered
gaily.

“If the undertaking fails,” said Petrus, pointing to his sons, “those
young ones will feel the loss longer than we shall.”

“But it will succeed,” cried Dorothea. “An old commander and young
soldiers can win any battle.” She held out her small plump hand with
frank briskness to her husband, he clasped it cheerily and said: “I
think I can carry the project for the road through the Senate. To build
our bridge we must also procure helping hands, and for that we need your
aid, Dorothea. Our slaves will not suffice.”

“Wait,” cried the lady eagerly; she went to the window and called,
“Jethro, Jethro!”

The person thus addressed, the old house-steward, appeared, and Dorothea
began to discuss with him as to which of the inhabitants of the oasis
might be disposed to let them have some able-bodied men, and whether it
might not be possible to employ one or another of the house-slaves at
the building.

All that she said was judicious and precise, and showed that she herself
superintended her household in every detail, and was accustomed to
command with complete freedom.

“That tall Anubis then is really indispensable in the stable?” she asked
in conclusion. The steward, who up to this moment had spoken shortly
and intelligently, hesitated to answer; at the same time he looked up at
Petrus, who, sunk in the contemplation of the plan, had his back to him;
his glance, and a deprecating movement, expressed very clearly that
he had something to tell, but feared to speak in the presence of
his master. Dame Dorothea was quick of comprehension, and she quite
understood Jethro’s meaning; it was for that very reason that she said
with more of surprise than displeasure: “What does the man mean with his
winks? What I may hear, Petrus may hear too.”

The senator turned, and looked at the steward from head to foot with so
dark a glance, that he drew back, and began to speak quickly. But he was
interrupted by the children’s clamors on the stairs and by Sirona, who
brought Hermas to the senator, and said laughing: “I found this great
fellow on the stairs, he was seeking you.”

Petrus looked at the youth, not very kindly, and asked: “Who are
you? what is your business?” Hermas struggled in vain for speech; the
presence of so many human beings, of whom three were women, filled him
with the utmost confusion. His fingers twisted the woolly curls on his
sheep-skin, and his lips moved but gave no sound; at last he succeeded
in stammering out, “I am the son of old Stephanus, who was wounded in
the last raid of the Saracens. My father has hardly slept these
five nights, and now Paulus has sent me to you--the pious Paulus of
Alexandria--but you know--and so I--”

“I see, I see,” said Petrus with encouraging kindness. “You want some
medicine for the old man. See Dorothea, what a fine young fellow he is
grown, this is the little man that the Antiochian took with him up the
mountain.”

Hermas colored, and drew himself up; then he observed with great
satisfaction that he was taller than the senator’s sons, who were of
about the same age as he, and for whom he had a stronger feeling,
allied to aversion and fear, than even for their stern father. Polykarp
measured him with a glance, and said aloud to Sirona, with whom he had
exchanged a greeting, are off whom he had never once taken his eyes
since she had come in: “If we could get twenty slaves with such
shoulders as those, we should get on well. There is work to be done
here, you big fellow--”

“My name is not ‘fellow,’ but Hermas,” said the anchorite, and the veins
of his forehead began to swell. Polykarp felt that his father’s visitor
was something more than his poor clothing would seem to indicate
and that he had hurt his feelings. He had certainly seen some old
anchorites, who led a contemplative and penitential life up on the
sacred mountain, but it had never occurred to him that a strong youth
could be long to the brotherhood of hermits. So he said to him kindly:
“Hermas--is that your name? We all use our hands here and labor is no
disgrace; what is your handicraft?”

This question roused the young anchorite to the highest excitement, and
Dame Dorothea, who perceives what was passing in his mind, said with
quick decision: “He nurses his sick father. That is what you do, my son
is it not? Petrus will not refuse you his help.”

“Certainly not,” the senator added, “I will accompany you by-and-bye to
see him. You must know my children, that this youth’s father was a great
Lord, who gave up rich possessions in order to forget the world, where
he had gone through bitter experiences, and to serve God in his own way,
which we ought to respect though it is not our own. Sit down there, my
son. First we must finish some important business, and then I will go
with you.”

“We live high up on the mountain,” stammered Hermas.

“Then the air will be all the purer,” replied the senator. “But
stay--perhaps the old man is alone no? The good Paulus, you say, is with
him? Then he is in good hands, and you may wait.”

For a moment Petrus stood considering, then he beckoned to his sons, and
said, “Antonius, go at once and see about some slaves--you, Polykarp,
find some strong beasts of burden. You are generally rather easy with
your money, and in this case it is worth while to buy the dearest. The
sooner you return well supplied the better. Action must not halt behind
decision, but follow it quickly and sharply, as the sound follows the
blow. You, Marthana, mix some of the brown fever-potion, and prepare
some bandages; you have the key.”

“I will help her,” cried Sirona, who was glad to prove herself useful,
and who was sincerely sorry for the sick old hermit; besides, Hermas
seemed to her like a discovery of her own, for whom she involuntarily
felt more consideration since she had learned that he was the son of a
man of rank.

While the young women were busy at the medicine-cupboard, Antonius and
Polykarp left the room.

The latter had already crossed the threshold, when he turned once more,
and cast a long look at Sirona. Then, with a hasty movement, he went on,
closed the door, and with a heavy sigh descended the stairs.

As soon as his sons were gone, Petrus turned to the steward again.

“What is wrong with the slave Anubis?” he asked.

“He is--wounded, hurt,” answered Jethro, “and for the next few days will
be useless. The goat-girl Miriam--the wild cat--cut his forehead with
her reaping hook.”

“Why did I not hear of this sooner?” cried Dorothea reprovingly. “What
have you done to the girl?”

“We have shut her up in the hay loft,” answered Jethro, “and there she
is raging and storming.”

The mistress shook her head disapprovingly. “The girl will not be
improved by that treatment,” she said. “Go and bring her to me.”

As soon as the intendant had left the room, she exclaimed, turning to
her husband, “One may well be perplexed about these poor creatures, when
one sees how they behave to each other. I have seen it a thousand times!
No judgment is so hard as that dealt by a slave to slaves!”

Jethro and a woman now led Miriam into the room. The girl’s hands were
bound with thick cords, and dry grass clung to her dress and rough black
hair. A dark fire glowed in her eyes, and the muscles of her face moved
incessantly, as if she had St. Vitus’ dance. When Dorothea looked at
her she drew herself up defiantly, and looked around the room, as if to
estimate the strength of her enemies.

She then perceived Hermas; the blood left her lips, with a violent
effort she tore her slender hands out of the loops that confined them,
covering her face with them, and fled to the door. But Jethro put
himself in her way, and seized her shoulder with a strong grasp.
Miriam shrieked aloud, and the senator’s daughter, who had set down the
medicines she had had in her hand, and had watched the girl’s movements
with much sympathy, hastened towards her. She pushed away the old man’s
hand, and said, “Do not be frightened, Miriam. Whatever you may have
done, my father can forgive you.”

Her voice had a tone of sisterly affection, and the shepherdess followed
Marthana unresistingly to the table, on which the plans for the bridge
were lying, and stood there by her side.

For a minute all were silent; at last Dame Dorothea went up to Miriam,
and asked, “What did they do to you, my poor child, that you could so
forget yourself?”

Miriam could not understand what was happening to her; she had been
prepared for scoldings and blows, nay for bonds and imprisonment, and
now these gentle words and kind looks! Her defiant spirit was quelled,
her eyes met the friendly eyes of her mistress, and she said in a low
voice: “he had followed me for such a long time, and wanted to ask you
for me as his wife; but I cannot bear him--I hate him as I do all your
slaves.” At these words her eyes sparkled wildly again, and with her old
fire she went on, “I wish I had only hit him with a stick instead of a
sickle; but I took what first came to hand to defend myself. When a man
touches me--I cannot bear it, it is horrible, dreadful! Yesterday I came
home later than usual with the beasts, and by the time I had milked the
goats, and was going to bed, every one in the house was asleep. Then
Anubis met me, and began chattering about love; I repelled him, but he
seized me, and held me with his hand here on my head and wanted to kiss
me; then my blood rose, I caught hold of my reaping hook, that hung by
my side, and it was not till I saw him roaring on the ground, that I saw
I had done wrong. How it happened I really cannot tell--something seemed
to rise up in me--something--I don’t know what to call it. It drives me
on as the wind drives the leaves that lie on the road, and I cannot help
it. The best thing you can do is to let me die, for then you would be
safe once for all from my wickedness, and all would be over and done
with.”

“How can you speak so?” interrupted Marthana. “You are wild and
ungovernable, but not wicked.”

“Only ask him!” cried the girl, pointing with flashing eyes to Hermas,
who, on his part, looked down a the floor in confusion. The senator
exchanged a hasty glance with his wife, they were accustomed to under
stand each other without speech, and Dorothea said: “He who feels that
he is not what he ought to be is already on the high-road to amendment.
We let you keep the goats because you were always running after the
flocks, and never can rest in the house. You are up on the mountain
before morning-prayer, and never come home till after supper is over,
and no one takes any thought for the better part of you. Half of your
guilt recoils upon us, and we have no right to punish you. You need
not be so astonished; every one some times does wrong. Petrus and I are
human beings like you, neither more nor less; but we are Christians, and
it is our duty to look after the souls which God has entrusted to our
care, be they our children or our slaves. You must go no more up the
mountain, but shall stay with us in the house. I shall willingly forgive
your hasty deed if Petrus does not think it necessary to punish you.”

The senator gravely shook his head in sign of agreement, and Dorothea
turned to enquire of Jethro: “Is Anubis badly wounded and does he need
any care?’

“He is lying in a fever and wanders in his talk,” was the answer. “Old
Praxinoa is cooling his wound with water.”

“Then Miriam can take her place and try to remedy the mischief which
she was the cause of,” said Dorothea. “Half of your guilt will be atoned
for, girl, if Anubis recovers under your care. I will come presently
with Marthana, and show you how to make a bandage.” The shepherdess
cast down her eyes, and passively allowed herself to be conducted to the
wounded man.

Meanwhile Marthana had prepared the brown mixture. Petrus had his staff
and felt-hat brought to him, gave Hermas the medicine and desired him to
follow him.

Sirona looked after the couple as they went. “What a pity for such a
fine lad!” she exclaimed. “A purple coat would suit him better than that
wretched sheepskin.”

The mistress shrugged her shoulders, and signing to her daughter said:
“Come to work, Marthana, the sun is already high. How the days fly! the
older one grows the quicker the hours hurry away.”

“I must be very young then,” said the centurion’s wife, “for in this
wilderness time seems to me to creep along frightfully slow. One day is
the same as another, and I often feel as if life were standing perfectly
still, and my heart pulses with it. What should I be without your house
and the children?--always the same mountain, the same palm-trees, the
same faces!--”

“But the mountain is glorious, the trees are beautiful!” answered
Dorothea. “And if we love the people with whom we are in daily
intercourse, even here we may be contented and happy. At least we
ourselves are, so far as the difficulties of life allow. I have often
told you, what you want is work.”

“Work! but for whom?” asked Sirona. “If indeed I had children like you!
Even in Rome I was not happy, far from it; and yet there was plenty to
do and to think about. Here a procession, there a theatre; but here! And
for whom should I dress even? My jewels grow dull in my chest, and the
moths eat my best clothes. I am making doll’s clothes now of my colored
cloak for your little ones. If some demon were to transform me into a
hedge-hog or a grey owl, it would be all the same to me.”

“Do not be so sinful,” said Dorothea gravely, but looking with kindly
admiration at the golden hair and lovely sweet face of the young woman.
“It ought to be a pleasure to you to dress yourself for your husband.”

“For him?” said Sirona. “He never looks at me, or if he does it is only
to abuse me. The only wonder to me is that I can still be merry at all;
nor am I, except in your house, and not there even but when I forget him
altogether.”

“I will not hear such things said--not another word,” interrupted
Dorothea severely. “Take the linen and cooling lotion, Marthana, we will
go and bind up Anubis’ wound.”



CHAPTER IV.

Petrus went up the mountain side with Hermas. The old man followed the
youth, who showed him the way, and as he raised his eyes from time to
time, he glanced with admiration at his guide’s broad shoulders and
elastic limbs. The road grew broader when it reached a little mountain
plateau, and from thence the two men walked on side by side, but for
some time without speaking till the senator asked: “How long now has
your father lived up on the mountain?”

“Many years,” answered Hermas. “But I do not know how many--and it is
all one. No one enquires about time up here among us.”

The senator stood still a moment and measured his companion with a
glance.

“You have been with your father ever since he came?” he asked.

“He never lets me out of his sight;” replied Hermas. “I have been only
twice into the oasis, even to go to the church.”

“Then you have been to no school?”

“To what school should I go! My father has taught me to read the Gospels
and I could write, but I have nearly forgotten how. Of what use would it
be to me? We live like praying beasts.”

Deep bitterness sounded in the last words, and Petrus could see into
the troubled spirit of his companion, overflowing as it was with weary
disgust, and he perceived how the active powers of youth revolted in
aversion against the slothful waste of life, to which he was condemned.
He was grieved for the boy, and he was not one of those who pass by
those in peril without helping them. Then he thought of his own sons,
who had grown up in the exercise and fulfilment of serious duties, and
he owned to himself that the fine young fellow by his side was in no
way their inferior, and needed nothing but to be guided aright. He
thoughtfully looked first at the youth and then on the ground, and
muttered unintelligible words into his grey beard as they walked on.
Suddenly he drew himself up and nodded decisively; he would make an
attempt to save Hermas, and faithful to his own nature, action trod on
the heels of resolve. Where the little level ended the road divided,
one path continued to lead upwards, the other deviated to the valley
and ended at the quarries. Petrus was for taking the latter, but Hermas
cried out, “That is not the way to our cave; you must follow me.”

“Follow thou me!” replied the senator, and the words were spoken with a
tone and expression, that left no doubt in the youth’s mind as to their
double meaning. “The day is yet before us, and we will see what my
laborers are doing. Do you know the spot where they quarry the stone?”

“How should I not know it?” said Hermas, passing the senator to lead the
way. “I know every path from our mountain to the oasis, and to the sea.
A panther had its lair in the ravine behind your quarries.”

“So we have learnt,” said Petrus. “The thievish beasts have slaughtered
two young camels, and the people can neither catch them in their toils
nor run them down with dogs.”

“They will leave you in peace now,” said the boy laughing. “I brought
down the male from the rock up there with an arrow, and I found the
mother in a hollow with her young ones. I had a harder job with her;
my knife is so bad, and the copper blade bent with the blow; I had to
strangle the gaudy devil with my hands, and she tore my shoulder and bit
my arm. Look! there are the scars. But thank God, my wounds heal quicker
than my father’s. Paulus says, I am like an earth-worm; when it is cut
in two the two halves say good-bye to each other, and crawl off sound
and gay, one way, and the other another way. The young panthers were
so funny and helpless, I would not kill them, but I did them up in
my sheepskin, and brought them to my father. He laughed at the little
beggars, and then a Nabataean took them to be sold at Clysma to a
merchant from Rome. There and at Byzantium, there is a demand for all
kinds of living beasts of prey. I got some money for them, and for the
skins of the old ones, and kept it to pay for my journey, when I went
with the others to Alexandria to ask the blessing of the new Patriarch.”

“You went to the metropolis?” asked Petrus. “You saw the great
structures, that secure the coast from the inroads of the sea, the tall
Pharos with the far-shining fire, the strong bridges, the churches, the
palaces and temples with their obelisks, pillars, and beautiful paved
courts? Did it never enter your mind to think that it would be a proud
thing to construct such buildings?”

Hermas shook his head. “Certainly I would rather live in an airy house
with colonnades than in our dingy cavern, but building would never be in
my way. What a long time it takes to put one stone on another! I am not
patient, and when I leave my father I will do something that shall win
me fame. But there are the quarries--” Petrus did not let his companion
finish his sentence, but interrupted him with all the warmth of youth,
exclaiming: “And do you mean to say that fame cannot be won by the arts
of building? Look there at the blocks and flags, here at the pillars of
hard stone. These are all to be sent to Aila, and there my son Antonius,
the elder of the two that you saw just now, is going to build a House of
God, with strong walls and pillars, much larger and handsomer than our
church in the oasis, and that is his work too. He is not much older than
you are, and already he is famous among the people far and wide. Out
of those red blocks down there my younger son Polykarp will hew noble
lions, which are destined to decorate the finest building in the capital
itself. When you and I, and all that are now living, shall have been
long since forgotten, still it will be said these are the work of the
Master Polykarp, the son of Petrus, the Pharanite. What he can do is
certainly a thing peculiar to himself, no one who is not one of the
chosen and gifted ones can say, ‘I will learn to do that.’ But you have
a sound understanding, strong hands and open eyes, and who can tell what
else there is hidden in you. If you could begin to learn soon, it would
not yet be too late to make a worthy master of you, but of course he
who would rise so high must not be afraid of work. Is your mind set upon
fame? That is quite right, and I am very glad of it; but you must know
that he who would gather that rare fruit must water it, as a noble
heathen once said, with the sweat of his brow. Without trouble and labor
and struggles there can be no victory, and men rarely earn fame without
fighting for victory.”

The old man’s vehemence was contagious; the lad’s spirit was roused, and
he exclaimed warmly: “What do you say? that I am afraid of struggles and
trouble? I am ready to stake everything, even my life, only to win fame.
But to measure stone, to batter defenceless blocks with a mallet and
chisel, or to join the squares with accurate pains--that does not tempt
me. I should like to win the wreath in the Palaestra by flinging the
strongest to the ground, or surpass all others as a warrior in battle;
my father was a soldier too, and he may talk as much as he will of
‘peace,’ and nothing but ‘peace,’ all the same in his dreams he speaks
of bloody strife and burning wounds. If you only cure him I will stay no
longer on this lonely mountain, even if I must steal away in secret. For
what did God give me these arms, if not to use them?”

Petrus made no answer to these words, which came is a stormy flood from
Hermas’ lips, but he stroked his grey beard, and thought to himself,
“The young of the eagle does not catch flies. I shall never win over
this soldier’s son to our peaceful handicraft, but he shall not remain
on the mountain among these queer sluggards, for there he is being
ruined, and yet he is not of a common sort.”

When he had given a few orders to the overseer of his workmen, he
followed the young man to see his suffering father.

It was now some hours since Hermas and Paulus had left the wounded
anchorite, and he still lay alone in his cave. The sun, as it rose
higher and higher, blazed down upon the rocks, which began to radiate
their heat, and the hermit’s dwelling was suffocatingly hot. The pain of
the poor man’s wound increased, his fever was greater, and he was very
thirsty. There stood the jug, which Paulus had given him, but it was
long since empty, and neither Paulus nor Hermas had come back. He
listened anxiously to the sounds in the distance, and fancied at first
that he heard the Alexandrian’s footstep, and then that he heard loud
words and suppressed groans coming from his cave. Stephanus tried to
call out, but he himself could hardly hear the feeble sound, which, with
his wounded breast and parched mouth, he succeeded in uttering. Then
he fain would have prayed, but fearful mental anguish disturbed his
devotion. All the horrors of desertion came upon him, and he who had
lived a life overflowing with action and enjoyment, with disenchantment
and satiety, who now in solitude carried on an incessant spiritual
struggle for the highest goal--this man felt himself as disconsolate and
lonely as a bewildered child that has lost its mother.

He lay on his bed of pain softly crying, and when he observed by
the shadow of the rock that the sun had passed its noonday height,
indignation and bitter feeling were added to pain, thirst and weariness.
He doubled his fists and muttered words which sounded like soldier’s
oaths, and with them the name now of Paulus, now of his son. At last
anguish gained the upperhand of his anger, and it seemed to him, as
though he were living over again the most miserable hour of his life, an
hour now long since past and gone.

He thought he was returning from a noisy banquet in the palace of the
Caesars. His slaves had taken the garlands of roses and poplar leaves
from his brow and breast, and robed him in his night-dress; now, with a
silver lamp in his hand, he was approaching his bedroom, and he smiled,
for his young wife was awaiting him, the mother of his Hermas. She was
fair and he loved her well, and he had brought home witty sayings to
repeat to her from the table of the emperor. He, if any one, had a right
to smile. Now he was in the ante-room, in which two slave-women were
accustomed to keep watch; he found only one, and she was sleeping
and breathing deeply; he still smiled as he threw the light upon her
face--how stupid she looked with her mouth open! An alabaster lamp shed
a dim light in the bed-room, softly and still smiling he went up to
Glycera’s ivory couch, and held up his lamp, and stared at the empty and
undisturbed bed--and the smile faded from his lips. The smile of that
evening came back to him no more through all the long years, for Glycera
had betrayed him, and left him--him and her child. All this had happened
twenty years since, and to-day all that he had then felt had returned to
him, and he saw his wife’s empty couch with his “mind’s eye,” as plainly
as he had then seen it, and he felt as lonely and as miserable as in
that night. But now a shadow appeared before the opening of the cave,
and he breathed a deep sigh as he felt himself released from the hideous
vision, for he had recognized Paulus, who came up and knelt down beside
him.

“Water, water!” Stephanus implored in a low voice, and Paulus, who was
cut to the heart by the moaning of the old man, which he had not heard
till he entered the cave, seized the pitcher. He looked into it, and,
finding it quite dry, he rushed down to the spring as if he were running
for a wager, filled it to the brim and brought it to the lips of the
sick man, who gulped the grateful drink down with deep draughts, and at
last exclaimed with a sigh of relief; “That is better; why were you so
long away? I was so thirsty!” Paulus who had fallen again on his knees
by the old man, pressed his brow against the couch, and made no reply.
Stephanus gazed in astonishment at his companion, but perceiving that
he was weeping passionately he asked no further questions. Perfect
stillness reigned in the cave for about an hour; at last Paulus raised
his face, and said, “Forgive me Stephanus. I forgot your necessity
in prayer and scourging, in order to recover the peace of mind I had
trifled away--no heathen would have done such a thing!” The sick man
stroked his friend’s arm affectionately; but Paulus murmured, “Egoism,
miserable egoism guides and governs us. Which of us ever thinks of the
needs of others? And we--we who profess to walk in the way of the Lamb!”

He sighed deeply, and leaned his head on the sick man’s breast, who
lovingly stroked his rough hair, and it was thus that the senator found
him, when he entered the cave with Hermas.

The idle way of life of the anchorites was wholly repulsive to his views
of the task for men and for Christians, but he succored those whom he
could, and made no enquiries about the condition of the sufferer. The
pathetic union in which he found the two men touched his heart, and,
turning to Paulus, he said kindly: “I can leave you in perfect comfort,
for you seem to me to have a faithful nurse.”

The Alexandrian reddened; he shook his head, and replied: “I? I thought
of no one but myself, and left him to suffer and thirst in neglect, but
now I will not quit him--no, indeed, I will not, and by God’s help and
yours, he shall recover.”

Petrus gave him a friendly nod, for he did not believe in the
anchorite’s self-accusation, though he did in his good-will; and
before he left the cave, he desired Hermas to come to him early on the
following day to give him news of his father’s state. He wished not only
to cure Stephanus, but to continue his relations with the youth, who had
excited his interest in the highest degree, and he had resolved to help
him to escape from the inactive life which was weighing upon him.

Paulus declined to share the simple supper that the father and son were
eating, but expressed his intention of remaining with the sick man. He
desired Hermas to pass the night in his dwelling, as the scanty limits
of the cave left but narrow room for the lad.

A new life had this day dawned upon the young man; all the grievances
and desires which had filled his soul ever since his journey to
Alexandria, crowding together in dull confusion, had taken form and
color, and he knew now that he could not remain an anchorite, but must
try his over abundant strength in real life.

“My father,” thought he, “was a warrior, and lived in a palace, before
he retired into our dingy cave; Paulus was Menander, and to this day has
not forgotten how to throw the discus; I am young, strong, and free-born
as they were, and Petrus says, I might have been a fine man. I will
not hew and chisel stones like his sons, but Caesar needs soldiers, and
among all the Amalekites, nay among the Romans in the oasis, I saw none
with whom I might not match myself.”

While thus he thought he stretched his limbs, and struck his hands on
his broad breast, and when he was asleep, he dreamed of the wrestling
school, and of a purple robe that Paulus held out to him, of a wreath
of poplar leaves that rested on his scented curls, and of the beautiful
woman who had met him on the stairs of the senator’s house.



CHAPTER V.

Thanks to the senator’s potion Stephanus soon fell asleep. Paulus sat
near him and did not stir; he held his breath, and painfully suppressed
even an impulse to cough, so as not to disturb the sick man’s light
slumbers.

An hour after midnight the old man awoke, and after he had lain
meditating for some time with his eyes open, he said thoughtfully: “You
called yourself and us all egotistic, and I certainly am so. I have
often said so to myself; not for the first time to day, but for
weeks past, since Hermas came back from Alexandria, and seems to have
forgotten how to laugh. He is not happy, and when I ask myself what is
to become of him when I am dead, and if he turns from the Lord and seeks
the pleasures of the world, my heart sickens. I meant it for the best
when I brought him with me up to the Holy Mountain, but that was not the
only motive--it seemed to me too hard to part altogether from the child.
My God! the young of brutes are secure of their mother’s faithful
love, and his never asked for him when she fled from my house with her
seducer. I thought he should at least not lose his father, and that if
he grew up far away from the world he would be spared all the sorrow
that it had so profusely heaped upon me, I would have brought him up
fit for Heaven, and yet through a life devoid of suffering. And now--and
now? If he is miserable it will be through me, and added to all my other
troubles comes this grief.”

“You have sought out the way for him,” interrupted Paulus, “and the rest
will be sure to come; he loves you and will certainly not leave you so
long as you are suffering.”

“Certainly not?” asked the sick man sadly. “And what weapons has he to
fight through life with?”

“You gave him the Saviour for a guide; that is enough,” said Paulus
soothingly. “There is no smooth road from earth to Heaven, and none can
win salvation for another.”

Stephanus was silent for a long time, then he said: “It is not even
allowed to a father to earn the wretched experience of life for his son,
or to a teacher for his pupil. We may point out the goal, but the way
thither is by a different road for each of us.”

“And we may thank God for that,” cried Paulus. “For Hermas has been
started on the road which you and I had first to find for ourselves.”

“You and I,” repeated the sick man thoughtfully. “Yes, each of us has
sought his own way, but has enquired only which was his own way, and has
never concerned himself about that of the other. Self! self!--How many
years we have dwelt close together, and I have never felt impelled to
ask you what you could recall to mind about your youth, and how you were
led to grace. I learnt by accident that you were an Alexandrian, and had
been a heathen, and had suffered much for the faith, and with that I was
satisfied. Indeed you do not seem very ready to speak of those long
past days. Our neighbor should be as dear to us as our self, and who is
nearer to me than you? Aye, self and selfishness! There are many gulfs
on the road towards God.”

“I have not much to tell,” said Paulus. “But a man never forgets what
he once has been. We may cast the old man from us, and believe we have
shaken ourselves free, when lo! it is there again and greets us as an
old acquaintance. If a frog only once comes down from his tree he hops
back into the pond again.”

“It is true, memory can never die!” cried the sick man. “I can not sleep
any more; tell me about your early life and how you became a Christian.
When two men have journeyed by the same road, and the moment of parting
is at hand, they are fain to ask each other’s name and where they came
from.”

Paulus gazed for some time into space, and then he began: “The
companions of my youth called me Menander, the son of Herophilus.
Besides that, I know for certain very little of my youth, for as I have
already told you, I have long since ceased to allow myself to think of
the world. He who abandons a thing, but clings to the idea of the thing,
continues--”

“That sounds like Plato,” said Stephanus with a smile.

“All that heathen farrago comes back to me today,” cried Paulus. “I
used to know it well, and I have often thought that his face must have
resembled that of the Saviour.”

“But only as a beautiful song might resemble the voice of an angel,”
 said Stephanus somewhat drily. “He who plunges into the depths of
philosophic systems--”

“That never was quite my case,” said Paulus. “I did indeed go through
the whole educational course; Grammar, Rhetoric, Dialectic and Music--”

“And Arithmetic, Geometry, and Astronomy,” added Stephanus.

“Those were left to the learned many years since,” continued Paulus,
“and I was never very eager for learning. In the school of Rhetoric I
remained far behind my fellows, and if Plato was dear to me I owe it to
Paedonomus of Athens, a worthy man whom my father engaged to teach us.”

“They say he had been a great merchant,” interrupted Stephanus. “Can
it be that you were the son of that rich Herophilus, whose business in
Antioch was conducted by the worthy Jew Urbib?”

“Yes indeed,” replied Paulus, looking down at the ground in some
confusion. “Our mode of life was almost royal, and the multitude of our
slaves quite sinful. When I look back on all the vain trifles that my
father had to care for, I feel quite giddy. Twenty sea-going ships in
the harbor of Eunostus, and eighty Nile-boats on Lake Mareotis belonged
to him. His profits on the manufacture of papyrus might have maintained
a cityfull of poor. But we needed our revenues for other things. Our
Cyraenian horses stood in marble stalls, and the great hall, in which my
father’s friends were wont to meet, was like a temple. But you see
how the world takes possession of us, when we begin to think about it!
Rather let us leave the past in peace. You want me to tell you more of
myself? Well; my childhood passed like that of a thousand other rich
citizens’ sons, only my mother, indeed, was exceptionally beautiful and
sweet, and of angelic goodness.”

“Every child thinks his own mother the best of mothers,” murmured the
sick man.

“Mine certainly was the best to me,” cried Paulus. “And yet she was a
heathen. When my father hurt me with severe words of blame, she always
had a kind word and loving glance for me. There was little enough,
indeed, to praise in me. Learning was utterly distasteful to me, and
even if I had done better at school, it would hardy have counted for
much to my credit, for my brother Apollonius, who was about a year
younger than I, learned all the most difficult things as if they
were mere child’s play, and in dialectic exercises there soon was no
rhetorician in Alexandria who could compete with him. No system was
unknown to him, and though no one ever knew of his troubling himself
particularly to study, he nevertheless was master of many departments of
learning. There were but two things in which I could beat him--in music,
and in all athletic exercises; while he was studying and disputing I was
winning garlands in the palaestra. But at that time the best master of
rhetoric and argument was the best man, and my father, who himself could
shine in the senate as an ardent and elegant orator, looked upon me as a
half idiotic ne’er-do-weel, until one clay a learned client of our
house presented him with a pebble on which was carved an epigram to this
effect: ‘He who would see the noblest gifts of the Greek race, should
visit the house of Herophilus, for there he might admire strength
and vigor of body in Menander, and the same qualities of mind in
Apollonius.’ These lines, which were written in the form of a lute,
passed from mouth to mouth, and gratified my father’s ambition; from
that time he had words of praise for me when my quadriga won the race in
the Hippodrome, or when I came home crowned from the wrestling-ring,
or the singing match. My whole life was spent in the baths and the
palaestra, or in gay feasting.”

“I know it all,” exclaimed Stephanus interrupting him, “and the memory
of it all often disturbs me. Did you find it easy to banish these images
from your mind?”

“At first I had a hard fight,” sighed Paulus. “But for some time now,
since I have passed my fortieth year, the temptations of the world
torment me less often. Only I must keep out of the way of the carriers
who bring fish from the fishing towns on the sea, and from Raithu to the
oasis.”

Stephanus looked enquiringly at the speaker, and Paulus went on: “Yes,
it is very strange. I may see men or women--the sea yonder or the
mountain here, without ever thinking of Alexandria, but only of sacred
things; but when the savor of fish rises up to my nostrils I see the
market and fish stalls and the oysters--”

“Those of Kanopus are famous,” interrupted Steplianus, “they make little
pasties there--” Paulus passed the back of his hand over his bearded
lips, exclaiming, “At the shop of the fat cook--Philemon--in the street
of Herakleotis.” But he broke off, and cried with an impulse of shame,
“It were better that I should cease telling of my past life. The day
does not dawn yet, and you must try to sleep.”

“I cannot sleep,” sighed Stephanus; “if you love me go on with your
story.”

“But do not interrupt me again then,” said Paulus, and he went on:
“With all this gay life I was not happy--by no means. When I was alone
sometimes, and no longer sitting in the crowd of merry boon-companions
and complaisant wenches, emptying the wine cup and crowned with poplar,
I often felt as if I were walking on the brink of a dark abyss as if
every thing in myself and around me were utterly hollow and empty. I
could stand gazing for hours at the sea, and as the waves rose only to
sink again and vanish, I often reflected that I was like them, and that
the future of my frivolous present must be a mere empty nothing. Our
gods were of little account with us. My mother sacrificed now in one
temple, and now in another, according to the needs of the moment; my
father took part in the high festivals, but he laughed at the belief of
the multitude, and my brother talked of the ‘Primaeval Unity,’ and dealt
with all sorts of demons, and magic formulas. He accepted the doctrine
of Iamblichus, Ablavius, and the other Neoplatonic philosophers, which
to my poor understanding seemed either superhumanly profound or else
debasingly foolish; nevertheless my memory retains many of his sayings,
which I have learned to understand here in my loneliness. It is vain to
seek reason outside ourselves; the highest to which we can attain is
for reason to behold itself in us! As often as the world sinks into
nothingness in my soul, and I live in God only, and have Him, and
comprehend Him, and feel Him only--then that doctrine recurs to me. How
all these fools sought and listened everywhere for the truth which was
being proclaimed in their very ears! There were Christians everywhere
about me, and at that time they had no need to conceal themselves, but
I had nothing to do with them. Twice only did they cross my path; once
I was not a little annoyed when, on the Hippodrome, a Christian’s horses
which had been blessed by a Nazarite, beat mine; and on another occasion
it seemed strange to me when I myself received the blessing of an old
Christian dock-laborer, having pulled his son out of the water.

“Years went on; my parents died. My mother’s last glance was directed at
me, for I had always been her favorite child. They said too that I was
like her, I and my sister Arsinoe, who, soon after my father’s death,
married the Prefect Pompey. At the division of the property I gave up
to my brother the manufactories and the management of the business, nay
even the house in the city, though, as the elder brother, I had a right
to it, and I took in exchange the land near the Kanopic gate, and filled
the stables there with splendid horses, and the lofts with not less
noble wine. This I needed, because I gave up the days to baths and
contests in the arena, and the nights to feasting, sometimes at my own
house, sometimes at a friend’s, and sometimes in the taverns of Kanopus,
where the fairest Greek girls seasoned the feasts with singing and
dancing.

“What have these details of the vainest worldly pleasure to do with my
conversion, you will ask. But listen a while. When Saul went forth to
seek his father’s asses he found a crown.

“One day we had gone out in our gilded boats, and the Lesbian girl
Archidike had made ready a feast for us in her house, a feast such as
could scarcely be offered even in Rome.

“Since the taking of our city by Diocletian, after the insurrection of
Achilleus, the Imperial troops who came to Alexandria behaved insolently
enough. Between some of my friends, and certain of the young officers of
Roman patrician families, there had been a good deal of rough banter
for some months past, as to their horses, women--I know not what; and it
happened that we met these very gentry at the house of Archidike.

“Sharp speeches were made, which the soldiers replied to after their
fashion, and at last they came to insulting words, and as the wine
heated us and them, to loud threats.

“The Romans left the house of entertainment before we did. Crowned with
garlands, singing, and utterly careless, we followed soon after them,
and had almost reached the quay, when a noisy troop rushed out of a side
street, and fell upon us with naked weapons. The moon was high in the
heavens, and I could recognize some of our adversaries. I threw myself
on a tall tribune, throttled him, and, as he fell, I fell with him in
the dust. I am but dimly conscious of what followed, for sword-strokes
were showered upon me, and all grew black before my eyes. I only know
what I thought then, face to face with death.”

“Well--?” asked Stephanus.

“I thought,” said Paulus reddening, “of my fighting-quails at
Alexandria, and whether they had had any water. Then my dull heavy
unconsciousness increased; for weeks I lay in that state, for I was
hacked like sausage-meat; I had twelve wounds, not counting the slighter
ones, and any one else would have died of any one of them. You have
often wondered at my scars.”

“And whom did the Lord choose then to be the means of your salvation?”

“When I recovered my senses,” continued Paulus, “I was lying in a large,
clean room behind a curtain of light material; I could not raise myself,
but just as if I had been sleeping so many minutes instead of days, I
thought again directly of my quails. In their last fight my best cock
had severely handled handsome Nikander’s, and yet he wanted to dispute
the stakes with me, but I would assert my rights! At least the quails
should fight again, and if Nikander should refuse I would force him to
fight me with his fists in the Palaestra, and give him a blue reminder
of his debt on the eye. My hands were still weak, and yet I clenched
them as I thought of the vexatious affair. ‘I will punish him,’ I
muttered to myself.

“Then I heard the door of the room open, and I saw three men
respectfully approaching a fourth. He greeted them with dignity, but yet
with friendliness, and rolled up a scroll which he had been reading, I
would have called out, but I could not open my parched lips, and yet I
saw and heard all that was going on around me in the room.

“It all seemed strange enough to me then; even the man’s mode of
greeting was unusual. I soon perceived that he who sat in the chair was
a judge, and that the others had come as complainants; they were all
three old and poor, but some good men had left them the use and interest
of a piece of land. During seed-time one of them, a fine old man with
long white hair, had been ill, and he had not been able to help in the
harvest either; ‘and now they want to withhold his portion of the corn,’
thought I; but it was quite otherwise. The two men who were in health
had taken a third part of the produce to the house of the sick man, and
he obstinately refused to accept the corn because he had helped neither
to sow nor to reap it, and he demanded of the judge that he should
signify to the other two that he had no right to receive goods which he
had not earned.

“The judge had so far kept silence. But he now raised his sagacious and
kindly face and asked the old man, ‘Did you pray for your companions and
for the increase of their labors?’

“‘I did,’ replied the other.

“‘Then by your intercession you helped them,’ the judge decided, ‘and
the third part of the produce is yours and you must keep it.’

“The old man bowed, the three men shook hands, and in a few minutes the
judge was alone in the room again.

“I did not know what had come over me; the complaint of the men and the
decision of the judge seemed to me senseless, and yet both the one and
the other touched my heart. I went to sleep again, and when I awoke
refreshed the next morning the judge came up to me and gave me medicine,
not only for my body but also for my soul, which certainly was not less
in need of it than my poor wounded limbs.”

“Who was the judge?” asked Stephanus.

“Eusebius, the Presbyter of Kanopus. Some Christians had found me half
dead on the road, and had carried me into his house, for the widow
Theodora, his sister, was the deaconess of the town. The two had nursed
me as if I were their dearest brother. It was not till I grew stronger
that they showed me the cross and the crown of thorns of Him who for my
sake also had taken upon Him such far more cruel suffering than
mine, and they taught me to love His wounds, and to bear my own with
submission. In the dry wood of despair soon budded green shoots of
hope, and instead of annihilation at the end of this life they showed me
Heaven and all its joys.

“I became a new man, and before me there lay in the future an eternal
and blessed existence; after this life I now learned to look forward
to eternity. The gates of Heaven were wide open before me, and I was
baptized at Kanopus.

“In Alexandria they had mourned for me as dead, and my sister Arsinoe,
as heiress to my property, had already moved into my country-house with
her husband, the prefect. I willingly left her there, and now lived
again in the city, in order to support the brethren, as the persecutions
had begun again.

“This was easy for me, as through my brother-in-law I could visit all
the prisons; at last I was obliged to confess the faith, and I suffered
much on the rack and in the porphyry quarries; but every pain was dear
to me, for it seemed to bring me nearer to the goal of my longings, and
if I find ought to complain of up here on the Holy Mountain, it is
only that the Lord deems me unworthy to suffer harder things, when his
beloved and only Son took such bitter torments on himself for me and for
every wretched sinner.”

“Ah! saintly man!” murmured Stephanus, devoutly kissing Paulus’
sheep-skin; but Paulus pulled it from him, exclaiming hastily:

“Cease, pray cease--he who approaches me with honors now in this life
throws a rock in my way to the life of the blessed. Now I will go to the
spring and fetch you some fresh water.”

When Paulus returned with the water-jar he found Hermas, who had come to
wish his father good-morning before he went down to the oasis to fetch
some new medicine from the senator.



CHAPTER VI.

Sirona was sitting at the open window of her bedroom, having her hair
arranged by a black woman that her husband had bought in Rome. She
sighed, while the slave lightly touched the shining tresses here and
there with perfumed oil which she had poured into the palm of her hand;
then she firmly grasped the long thick waving mass of golden hair and
was parting it to make a plait, when Sirona stopped her, saying, “Give
me the mirror.”

For some minutes she looked with a melancholy gaze at the image in
the polished metal, then she sighed again; she picked up the little
greyhound that lay at her feet, and placing it in her lap, showed the
animal its image in the mirror.

“There, poor Iambe,” she said, “if we two, inside these four walls, want
to see anything like a pleasing sight we must look at ourselves.”

Then she went on, turning to the slave. “How the poor little beast
trembles! I believe it longs to be back again at Arelas, and is afraid
we shall linger too long under this burning sky. Give me my sandals.”

The black woman reached her mistress two little slippers with gilt
ornaments on the slight straps, but Sirona flung her hair off her face
with the back of her hand, exclaiming, “The old ones, not these. Wooden
shoes even would do here.”

And with these words she pointed to the court-yard under the window,
which was in fact as ill contrived, as though gilt sandals had never yet
trodden it. It was surrounded by buildings; on one side was a wall
with a gateway, and on the others buildings which formed a sharply bent
horseshoe.

Opposite the wing in which Sirona and her husband had found a home stood
the much higher house of Petrus, and both had attached to them, in the
background of the court-yard, sheds constructed of rough reddish
brown stones, and covered with a thatch of palm-branches; in these the
agricultural implements were stored, and the senator’s slaves lived.
In front lay a heap of black charcoal, which was made on the spot by
burning the wood of the thorny sajala species of acacia; and there too
lay a goodly row of well smoothed mill-stones, which were shaped in the
quarry, and exported to Egypt. At this early hour the whole unlovely
domain lay in deep shadow, and was crowded with fowls and pigeons.
Sirona’s window alone was touched by the morning sun. If she could have
known what a charm the golden light shed over her figure, on her rose
and white face, and her shining hair, she would have welcomed the
day-star, instead of complaining that it had too early waked her from
sleep--her best comfort in her solitude.

Besides a few adjoining rooms she was mistress of a larger room, the
dwelling room, which look out upon the street.

She shaded her eyes with her hand, exclaiming, “Oh! the wearisome sun.
It looks at us the first thing in the morning through the window; as if
the day were not long enough. The beds must be put in the front room; I
insist upon it.”

The slave shook her head, and stammered an answer, “Phoebicius will not
have it so.”

Sirona’s eyes flashed angrily, and her voice, which was particularly
sweet, trembled slightly as she asked, “What is wrong with him again?”

“He says,” replied the slave, “that the senator’s son, Polykarp, goes
oftener past your window than altogether pleases him, and it seems to
him, that you occupy yourself more than is necessary with his little
brothers and sisters, and the other children up there.”

“Is he still in there?” asked Sirona with glowing cheeks, and she
pointed threateningly to the dwelling-room.

“The master is out,” stuttered the old woman. “He went out before
sunrise. You are not to wait for breakfast, he will not return till
late.”

The Gaulish lady made no answer, but her head fell, and the deepest
melancholy overspread her features. The greyhound seemed to feel for the
troubles of his mistress, for he fawned upon her, as if to kiss her. The
solitary woman pressed the little creature, which had come with her from
her home, closely to her bosom; for an unwonted sense of wretchedness
weighed upon her heart, and she felt as lonely, friendless, and
abandoned, as if she were driving alone--alone--over a wide and
shoreless sea. She shuddered, as if she were cold--for she thought of
her husband, the man who here in the desert should have been all in all
to her, but whose presence filled her with aversion, whose indifference
had ceased to wound her, and whose tenderness she feared far more than
his wild irritability--she had never loved him.

She had grown up free from care among a number of brothers and sisters.
Her father had been the chief accountant of the decurions’ college in
his native town, and he had lived opposite the circus, where, being of
a stern temper, he had never permitted his daughters to look on at the
games; but he could not prevent their seeing the crowd streaming into
the amphitheatre, or hearing their shouts of delight, and their eager
cries of approbation.

Sirona thus grew up in the presence of other people’s pleasure, and in
a constantly revived and never satisfied longing to share it; she had,
indeed, no time for unnecessary occupations, for her mother died before
she was fully grown up, and she was compelled to take charge of the
eight younger children. This she did in all fidelity, but in her hours
of leisure she loved to listen to the stories told her by the wives of
officials, who had seen, and could praise, the splendors of Rome the
golden.

She knew that she was fair, for she need only go outside the house to
hear it said; but though she longed to see the capital, it was not for
the sake of being admired, but because there was there so much that was
splendid to see and to admire. So, when the Centurion Phoebicius, the
commandant of the garrison of her native town, was transferred to Rome,
and when he desired to take the seventeen-years-old girl with him to the
imperial city, as his wife--she was more than forty years younger than
he--she followed him full of hope and eager anticipation.

Not long after their marriage she started for Rome by sea from Massilia,
accompanied by an old relative; and he went by land at the head of his
cohorts.

She reached their destination long before her husband, and without
waiting for him, but constantly in the society of her old duenna, she
gave herself up with the freedom and eagerness of her fresh youth to the
delights of seeing and admiring.

It did not escape her, while she did so, that she attracted all eyes
wherever she went, and however much this flattered and pleased her at
first, it spoilt many of her pleasures, when the Romans, young and old,
began to follow and court her. At last Phoebicius arrived, and when he
found his house crowded with his wife’s admirers he behaved to Sirona as
though she had long since betrayed his honor.

Nevertheless he dragged her from pleasure to pleasure, and from one
spectacle to another, for it gratified him to show himself in public
with his beautiful young wife. She certainly was not free from
frivolity, but she had learnt early from her strict father, as being the
guide of her younger sisters, to distinguish clearly right from wrong,
and the pure from the unclean; and she soon discovered that the joys
of the capital, which had seemed at first to be gay flowers with bright
colors, and redolent with intoxicating perfume, bloomed on the surface
of a foul bog.

She at first had contemplated all that was beautiful, pleasant, and
characteristic with delight; but her husband took pleasure only in
things which revolted her as being common and abominable. He watched
her every glance, and yet he pointed nothing out to her, but what was
hurtful to the feelings of a pure woman. Pleasure became her torment,
for the sweetest wine is repulsive when it has been tasted by impure
lips. After every feast and spectacle he loaded her with outrageous
reproaches, and when at last, weary of such treatment, she refused to
quit the house, he obliged her nevertheless to accompany him as often as
the Legate Quintillus desired it. The legate was his superior-officer,
and he sent her every day some present or flowers.

Up to this time she had borne with him, and had tried to excuse him,
and to think herself answerable for much of what she endured. But at
last--about ten months after her marriage--something occurred between
her and Phoebicius--something which stood like a wall of brass between
him and her; and as this something had led to his banishment to the
remote oasis, and to his degradation to the rank of captain of a
miserable maniple, instead of his obtaining his hoped for promotion, he
began to torment her systematically while she tried to protect herself
by icy coldness, so that at last it came to this, that the husband, for
whom she felt nothing but contempt, had no more influence on her life,
than some physical pain which a sick man is doomed to endure all through
his existence.

In his presence she was silent, defiant, and repellent, but as soon
as he quitted her, her innate, warm-hearted kindliness and child-like
merriment woke up to new life, and their fairest blossoms opened out
in the senator’s house among the little troop who amply repaid her love
with theirs.

Phoebicius belonged to the worshippers of Mithras, and he often fasted
in his honor to the point of exhaustion, while on the other hand he
frequently drank with his boon companions, at the feasts of the god,
till he was in a state of insensibility.

Here even, in Mount Sinai, he had prepared a grotto for the feast of
Mithras, had gathered together a few companions in his faith, and when
it happened that he remained out all day and all night, and came home
paler even than usual, she well knew where he had been. Just now she
vividly pictured to herself the person of this man with his eyes, that
now were dull with sleep and now glowed with rage, and she asked herself
whether it were indeed possible that of her own free will she had chosen
to become his wife. Her bosom heaved with quicker breathing as she
remembered the ignominy he had subjected her to in Rome, and she
clenched her small hands. At this instant the little dog sprang from her
lap and flew barking to the window-sill; she was easily startled,
and she drew on her morning-gown, which had slipped from her white
shoulders; then she fastened the straps of her sandals, and went to look
down into the court-yard.

A smile played upon her lips as she perceived young Hermas, who had
already been for some time leaning motionless against the wall of the
house opposite, and devouring with his gaze the figure of the beautiful
young woman. She had a facile and volatile nature. Like the eye which
retains no impression of the disabling darkness so soon as the rays of
light have fallen on it, no gloom of suffering touched her so deeply
that the lightest breath of a new pleasure could not blow her troubles
to the winds. Many rivers are quite different in color at their source
and at their mouth, and so it was often with her tears; she began to
weep for sorrow, and then found it difficult to dry her eyes for sheer
overflow of mirth. It would have been so easy for Phoebicius to make her
lot a fair one! for she had a most susceptible heart, and was grateful
for the smallest proofs of love, but between him and her every bond was
broken.

The form and face of Hermas took her fancy; she thought he looked of
noble birth in spite of his poor clothing, and when she observed that
his checks were glowing, and that the hand in which he held the medicine
phial trembled, she understood that he was watching her, and that the
sight of her had stirred his youthful blood. A woman--still more a woman
who is pleased to please--forgives any sin that is committed for her
beauty’s sake, and Sirona’s voice had a friendly ring in it as she bid
Hermas good-morning and asked him how his father was, and whether the
senator’s medicine had been of service. The youth’s answers were short
and confused, but his looks betrayed that he would fain have said
quite other things than those which his indocile tongue allowed him to
reiterate timidly.

“Dame Dorothea was telling me last evening,” she said kindly, “that
Petrus had every hope of your father’s recovery, but that he is still
very weak. Perhaps some good wine would be of service to him--not
to-day, but to-morrow or the day after. Only come to me if you need it;
we have some old Falerman in the loft, and white Mareotis wine, which is
particularly good and wholesome.”

Hermas thanked her, and as she still urged him to apply to her in all
confidence, he took courage and succeeded in stammering rather than
saying,--“You are as good as you are beautiful.”

The words were hardly spoken when the topmost stone of an elaborately
constructed pile near the slaves’ house fell down with a loud clatter.
Sirona started and drew back from the window, the grey-hound set up a
loud barking, and Hermas struck his forehead with his hand as if he were
roused from a dream.

In a few instants he had knocked at the senator’s door; hardly had he
entered the house when Miriam’s slight form passed across behind the
pile of stones, and vanished swiftly and silently into the slaves’
quarters. These were by this time deserted by their inhabitants, who
were busy in the field, the house, or the quarries; they consisted of a
few ill-lighted rooms with bare, unfinished walls.

The shepherdess went into the smallest, where, on a bed of palm-sticks,
lay the slave that she had wounded, and who turned over as with a hasty
hand she promptly laid a fresh, but ill-folded bandage, all askew on the
deep wound in his bend. As soon as this task was fulfilled she left the
room again, placed herself behind the half open door which led into the
court-yard, and, pressing, her brow against the stone door-post, looked
first at the senator’s house, and then at Sirona’s window, while her
breath came faster and faster.

A new and violent emotion was stirring her young soul; not many minutes
since she had squatted peacefully on the ground by the side of the
wounded man, with her head resting on her hand, and thinking of her
goats on the mountain. Then she had heard a slight sound in the court,
which any one else would not have noticed; but she not only perceived
it, but knew with perfect certainty with whom it originated. She could
never fail to recognize Hermas’ foot-step, and it had an irresistible
effect upon her. She raised her head quickly from her hand, and her
elbow from the knee on which it was resting, sprang to her feet, and
went out into the yard. She was hidden by the mill-stones, but she could
see Hermas lost in admiration. She followed the direction of his eyes
and saw the same image which had fascinated his gaze--Sirona’s lovely
form, flooded with sunlight. She looked as if formed out of snow, and
roses, and gold, like the angel at the sepulchre in the new picture in
the church. Yes, just like the angel, and the thought flew through her
mind how brown and black she was herself, and that he had called her
a she-devil. A sense of deep pain came over her, she felt as though
paralyzed in body and soul; but soon she shook off the spell, and her
heart began to beat violently; she had to bite her lip hard with her
white teeth to keep herself from crying out with rage and anguish.

How she wished that she could swing herself up to the window on which
Hermas’ gaze was fixed, and clutch Sirona’s golden hair and tear her
down to the ground, and suck the very blood from her red lips like a
vampire, till she lay at her feet as pale as the corpse of a man dead of
thirst in the desert. Then she saw the light mantle slip from Sirona’s
shoulders, and observed Hermas start and press his hand to his heart.

Then another impulse seized her. It was to call to her and warn her of
his presence; for even women who hate each other hold out the hand
of fellowship in the spirit, when the sanctity of woman’s modesty is
threatened with danger. She blushed for Sirona, and had actually opened
her lips to call, when the greyhound barked and the dialogue began. Not
a word escaped her sharp ears, and when he told Sirona that she was
as good as she was beautiful she felt seized with giddiness; then
the topmost stone, by which she had tried to steady herself, lost its
balance, its fall interrupted their conversation, and Miriam returned to
the sick man.

Now she was standing at the door, waiting for Hermas. Long, long did
she wait; at last he appeared with Dorothea, and she could see that he
glanced up again at Sirona; but a spiteful smile passed over her lips,
for the window was empty and the fair form that he had hoped to see
again had vanished.

Sirona was now sitting at her loom in the front room, whither she had
been tempted by the sound of approaching hoofs. Polykarp had ridden
by on his father’s fine horse, had greeted her as he passed, and had
dropped a rose on the roadway. Half an hour later the old black slave
came to Sirona, who was throwing the shuttle through the warp with a
skilful hand.

“Mistress,” cried the negress with a hideous grin; the lonely woman
paused in her work, and as she looked up enquiringly the old woman gave
her a rose. Sirona took the flower, blew away the road-side dust
that had clung to it, rearranged the tumbled delicate petals with her
finger-tips, and said, while she seemed to give the best part of her
attention to this occupation, “For the future let roses be when you find
them. You know Phoebicius, and if any one sees it, it will be talked
about.”

The black woman turned away, shrugging her shoulders; but Sirona
thought, “Polykarp is a handsome and charming man, and has finer and
more expressive eyes than any other here, if he were not always talking
of his plans, and drawings, and figures, and mere stupid grave things
that I do not care for!”



CHAPTER VII.

The next day, after the sun had passed the meridian and it was beginning
to grow cool, Hermas and Paulus yielded to Stephanus’ wish, as he began
to feel stronger, and carried him out into the air. The anchorites sat
near each other on a low block of stone, which Hermas had made into a
soft couch for his father by heaping up a high pile of fresh herbs. They
looked after the youth, who had taken his bow and arrows, as he went
up the mountain to hunt a wild goat; for Petrus had prescribed a
strengthening diet for the sick man. Not a word was spoken by either of
them till the hunter had disappeared. Then Stephanus said, “How much he
has altered since I have been ill. It is not so very long since I last
saw him by the broad light of day, and he seems meantime to have grown
from a boy into a man. How self-possessed his gait is.”

Paulus, looking down at the ground, muttered some words of assent. He
remembered the discus-throwing and thought to himself, “The Palaestra
certainly sticks in his mind, and he has been bathing too; and
yesterday, when he came up from the oasis, he strode in like a young
athlete.”

That friendship only is indeed genuine when two friends, without
speaking a word to each other, can nevertheless find happiness in being
together. Stephanus and Paulus were silent, and yet a tacit intercourse
subsisted between them as they sat gazing towards the west, where the
sun was near its setting.

Far below them gleamed the narrow, dark blue-green streak of the Red
Sea, bounded by the bare mountains of the coast, which shone in a
shimmer of golden light. Close beside them rose the toothed crown of
the great mountain which, so soon as the day-star had sunk behind it,
appeared edged with a riband of glowing rubies. The flaming glow flooded
the western horizon, filmy veils of mist floated across the hilly
coast-line, the silver clouds against the pure sky changed their hue
to the tender blush of a newly opened rose, and the undulating shore
floated in the translucent violet of the amethyst. There not a breath of
air was stirring, not a sound broke the solemn stillness of the evening.
Not till the sea was taking a darker and still darker hue, till the glow
on the mountain peaks and in the west had begun to die away, and the
night to spread its shades over the heights and hollows, did Stephanus
unclasp his folded hands and softly speak his companion’s name. Paulus
started and said, speaking like a man who is aroused from a dream and
who is suddenly conscious of having heard some one speak, “You are
right; it is growing dark and cool and you must go back into the cave.”

Stephanus offered no opposition and let himself be led back to his bed;
while Paulus was spreading the sheepskin over the sick man he sighed
deeply.

“What disturbs your soul?” asked the older man. “It is--it was--what
good can it do me!” cried Paulus in strong excitement. “There we sat,
witnesses of the most glorious marvels of the Most High, and I, in
shameless idolatry, seemed to see before me the chariot of Helios with
its glorious winged-horses, snorting fire as they went, and Helios
himself in the guise of Hermas, with gleaming golden hair, and the
dancing Hours, and the golden gates of the night. Accursed rabble of
demons!--”

At this point the anchorite was interrupted, for Hermas entered the
cave, and laying a young steinbock, that he had killed, before the two
men, exclaimed, “fine fellow, and he cost me no more than one arrow. I
will light a fire at once and roast the best pieces. There are plenty of
bucks still on our mountain, and I know where to find them.”

In about an hour, father and son were eating the pieces of meat, which
had been cooked on a spit. Paulus declined to sup with them, for after
he had scourged himself in despair and remorse for the throwing of the
discus, he had vowed a strict fast.

“And now,” cried Hermas, when his father declared himself satisfied,
after seeming to relish greatly the strong meat from which he had so
long abstained, “and now the best is to come! In this flask I have some
strengthening wine, and when it is empty it will be filled afresh.”
 Stephanus took the wooden beaker that his son offered him, drank
a little, and then said, while he smacked his tongue to relish the
after-taste of the noble juice, “That is something choice!--Syrian wine!
only taste it, Paulus.”

Paulus took the beaker in his hand, inhaled the fragrance of the golden
fluid, and then murmured, but without putting it to his lips, “That
is not Syrian; it is Egyptian, I know it well. I should take it to be
Mareotic.”

“So Sirona called it,” cried Hermas, “and you know it by the mere smell!
She said it was particularly good for the sick.”

“That it is,” Paulus agreed; but Stephanus asked in surprise, “Sirona?
who is she?”

The cave was but dimly lighted by the fire that had been made at the
opening, so that the two anchorites could not perceive that Hermas
reddened all over as he replied, “Sirona? The Gaulish woman Sirona? Do
you not know her? She is the wife of the centurion down in the oasis.”

“How do you come to know her?” asked his father.

“She lives in Petrus’ house,” replied the lad, “and as she had heard of
your wound--”

“Take her my thanks when you go there to-morrow morning,” said
Stephanus. “To her and to her husband too. Is he a Gaul?”

“I believe so--nay, certainly,” answered Hermas, “they call him the
lion, and he is no doubt a Gaul?”

When the lad had left the cave the old man laid himself down to rest,
and Paulus kept watch by him on his son’s bed. But Stephanus could not
sleep, and when his friend approached him to give him some medicine, he
said, “The wife of a Gaul has done me a kindness, and yet the wine would
have pleased me better if it had not come from a Gaul.”

Paulus looked at him enquiringly, and though total darkness reigned in
the cave, Stephanus felt his gaze and said, “I owe no man a grudge and
I love my neighbor. Great injuries have been done me, but I have for
given--from the bottom of my heart forgiven. Only one man lives to whom
I wish evil, and he is a Gaul.”

“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
refuses, shall by some means or other be brought to it, but those
who continue stiff-necked shall suffer death. For a long time much
consideration had been shown to the prisoners, but now they were alarmed
by having the edict read to them anew. Many hid themselves groaning and
lamenting, others prayed aloud, and most awaited what might happen with
pale lips and painful breathing.

“Magdalen remained perfectly calm. The names of the Christian prisoners
were called out, and the imperial soldiers led them all together to one
spot. Neither my name nor hers was called, for I did not belong to the
prisoners, and she had not been apprehended for the faith’s sake. The
officer was rolling up his list, when Magdalen rose and stepped modestly
forward, saying with quiet dignity, ‘I too am a Christian.’

“If there be an angel who wears the form and features of man, his face
must resemble hers, as she looked in that hour. The Roman, a worthy man,
looked at her with a benevolent, but searching gaze. I do not find your
name here,’ he said aloud, shaking his head and pointing to the roll;
and he added in a lower voice, ‘Nor do I intend to find it.’

“She went closer up to him, and said out loud, Grant me my place among
the believers, and write down, that Magdalen, the Christian, refuses to
sacrifice.’

“My soul was deeply moved, and with joyful eagerness I cried out, ‘Put
down my name too, and write, that Menander, the son of Herophilus, also
refuses.’ The Roman did his duty.

“Time has not blotted out from my memory a single moment of that day.
There stood the altar, and near it the heathen priest on one side,
and on the other the emperor’s officer. We were taken up two by two;
Magdalen and I were the last. One word now--one little word--would give
us life and freedom, another the rack and death. Out of thirty of us
only four had found courage to refuse to sacrifice, but the feeble
hearted broke out into lamentations, and beat their foreheads, and
prayed that the Lord might strengthen the courage of the others. An
unutterably pure and lofty joy filled my soul, and I felt, as if we were
out of the body floating on ambient clouds. Softly and calmly we refused
to sacrifice, thanked the imperial official, who warned us kindly, and
in the same hour and place we fell into the hands of the torturers. She
gazed only up to heaven, and I only at her, but in the midst of the
most frightful torments I saw before me the Saviour beckoning to me,
surrounded by angels that soared on soft airs, whose presence filled my
eyes with the purest light, and my ears with heavenly music. She bore
the utmost torture without flinching, only once she called out the name
of her son Hermas; then I turned to look at her, and saw her gazing up
to Heaven with wide open eyes and trembling lips-living, but already
with the Lord--on the rack, and yet in bliss. My stronger body clung to
the earth; she found deliverance at the first blow of the torturer.

“I myself closed her eyes, the sweetest eyes in which Heaven was ever
mirrored, I drew a ring from her dear, white, blood-stained hand, and
here under the rough sheepskin I have it yet; and I pray, I pray, I
pray--oh! my heart! My God if it might be--if this is the end--!”

Paulus put his hand to his head, and sank exhausted on the bed, in
a deep swoon. The sick man had followed his story with breathless
interest. Some time since he had risen from his bed, and, unobserved by
his companion, had sunk on his knees; he now dragged himself, all hot
and trembling, to the side of the senseless man, tore the sheep’s fell
from his breast, and with hasty movement sought the ring; he found it,
and fixing on it passionate eyes, as though he would melt it with their
fire, he pressed it again and again to his lips, to his heart, to his
lips again; buried his face in his hands and wept bitterly.

It was not till Hermas returned from the oasis that Stephanus thought
of his exhausted and fainting friend, and with his son’s assistance
restored him to conscious ness. Paulus did not refuse to take some food
and drink, and in the cool of the evening, when he was refreshed and
invigorated, he sat again by the side of Stephanus, and understood from
the old man that Magdalen was certainly his wife.

“Now I know,” said Paulus, pointing to Hermas, “how it is that from the
first I felt such a love for the lad there.”

The old man softly pressed his hand, for he felt himself tied to his
friend by a new and tender bond, and it was with silent ecstasy that he
received the assurance that the wife he had always loved, the mother of
his child, had died a Christian and a martyr, and had found before him
the road to Heaven.

The old man slept as peacefully as a child the following night, and
when, next morning, messengers came from Raithu to propose to Paulus
that he should leave the Holy Mountain, and go with them to become
their elder and ruler, Stephanus said, “Follow this high call with all
confidence, for you deserve it. I really no longer have need of you, for
I shall get well now without any further nursing.”

But Paulus, far more disturbed than rejoiced, begged of the messengers a
delay of seven days for reflection, and after wandering restlessly from
one holy spot to another, at last went down into the oasis, there to
pray in the church.



CHAPTER VIII.

It was a delicious refreshing evening; the full moon rose calmly in the
dark blue vault of the night-sky, and poured a flood of light down
on the cool earth. But its rays did not give a strong enough light
to pierce the misty veil that hung over the giant mass of the Holy
Mountain; the city of the oasis on the contrary was fully illuminated;
the broad roadway of the high-street looked to the wanderer who
descended from the height above like a shining path of white marble, and
the freshly plastered walls of the new church gleamed as white as in
the light of day. The shadows of the houses and palm-trees lay like dark
strips of carpet across the road, which was nearly empty in spite of the
evening coolness, which usually tempted the citizens out into the air.

The voices of men and women sounded out through the open windows of the
church; then the door opened and the Pharanite Christians, who had
been partaking of the Supper--the bread and the cup passed from hand to
hand--came out into the moonlight. The elders and deacons, the readers
and singers, the acolytes and the assembled priesthood of the place
followed the Bishop Agapitus, and the laymen came behind Obedianus,
the head-man of the oasis, and the Senator Petrus; with Petrus came his
wife, his grown up children and numerous slaves.

The church was empty when the door-keeper, who was extinguishing the
lights, observed a man in a dark corner of an antechamber through which
a spring of water softly plashed and trickled, and which was intended
for penitents. The man was prostrate on the ground and absorbed in
prayer, and he did not raise himself till the porter called him, and
threw the light of his little lamp full in his face.

He began to address him with hard words, but when he recognized in the
belated worshipper the anchorite Paulus of Alexandria he changed his
key, and said, in a soft and almost submissive tone of entreaty, “You
have surely prayed enough, pious man. The congregation have left the
church, and I must close it on account of our beautiful new vessels and
the heathen robbers. I know that the brethren of Raithu have chosen you
to be their elder, and that his high honor was announced to you by their
messengers, for they came to see our church too and greatly admired
it. Are you going at once to settle with them or shall you keep the
high-feast with us?”

“That you shall hear to-morrow,” answered Paulus, who had risen from his
knees, and was leaning against a pillar of the narrow, bare, penitential
chamber. “In this house dwells One of whom I would fain take counsel,
and I beg of you to leave me here alone. If you will, you can lock the
door, and fetch me out later, before you go to rest for the night.”

“That cannot be,” said the man considering, “for my wife is ill, and my
house is a long way from here at the end of the town by the little gate,
and I must take the key this very evening to the Senator Petrus, because
his son, the architect Antonius, wants to begin the building of the new
altar the first thing to-morrow morning. The workmen are to be here by
sunrise, and if--”

“Show me the key,” interrupted Paulus. “To what untold blessing may this
little instrument close or open the issues! Do you know, man, that I
think there is a way for us both out of the difficulty! You go to your
sick wife, and I will take the key to the senator as soon as I have
finished my devotions.”

The door-keeper considered for a few minutes, and then acceded to the
request of the future presbyter of Raithu, while at the same time he
begged him not to linger too late.

As he went by the senator’s house he smelt the savor of roast meat; he
was a poor man and thought to himself, “They fast in there just when it
pleases them, but as for us, we fast when it pleases us least.”

The good smell, which provoked this lament, rose from a roast sheep,
which was being prepared as a feast-supper for the senator and the
assembled members of his household; even the slaves shared in the late
evening meal.

Petrus and Dame Dorothea sat in the Greek fashion, side by side in a
half reclining position on a simple couch, and before them stood a table
which no one shared with them, but close to which was the seat for the
grown up children of the house. The slaves squatted on the ground nearer
to the door, and crowded into two circles, each surrounding a steaming
dish, out of which they helped themselves to the brown stew of lentils
with the palm of the hand. A round, grey-looking cake of bread lay
near each, and was not to be broken till the steward Jethro had cut and
apportioned the sheep. The juicy pieces of the back and thighs of the
animal were offered to Petrus and his family to choose from, but the
carver laid a slice for each slave on his cake--a larger for the men
and a smaller for the women. Many looked with envy on the more succulent
piece that had fallen to a neighbor’s share, but not even those that
had fared worst dared to complain, for a slave was allowed to speak only
when his master addressed him, and Petrus forbid even his children to
discuss their food whether to praise it or to find fault.

In the midst of the underlings sat Miriam; she never ate much, and all
meat was repulsive to her, so she pushed the cut from the ribs that was
given to her over to an old garden-woman, who sat opposite, and who
had often given her a fruit or a little honey, for Miriam loved sweet
things. Petrus spoke not a word to-day to his slaves, and very little
even to his family; Dorothea marked the deep lines between his grave
eyes, not without anxiety, and noted how he pinched his lips, when,
forgetful of the food before him, he sat lost in meditation.

The meal was ended, but still he did not move, nor did he observe the
enquiring glances which were turned on him by many eyes; no one dared to
rise before the master gave the signal.

Miriam followed all his movements with more impatience than any of the
others who were present; she rocked restlessly backwards and forwards,
crumbled the bread that she had left with her slender fingers, and her
breath now came fast and faster, and now seemed to stop entirely. She
had heard the court-yard gate open, and had recognized Hermas’ step.

“He wants to speak to the master, in a moment he will come in, and find
me among these--” thought she, and she involuntarily stroked her hand
over her rough hair to smooth it, and threw a glance at the other
slaves, in which hatred and contempt were equally marked.

But Hermas came not. Not for an instant did she think that her ear had
deceived her--was he waiting now at the door for the conclusion of the
meal? Was his late visit intended for the Gaulish lady, to whom she had
seen him go yesterday again with the wine jar?

Sirona’s husband, Phoebicius, as Miriam well knew, was upon the
mountain, and offering sacrifice by moonlight to Mithras with his fellow
heathen in a cave which she had long known. She had seen the Gaul quit
the court during the time of evening-prayer with a few soldiers, two of
whom carried after him a huge coffer, out of which rose the handle of a
mighty cauldron, and a skin full of water, and various vessels. She knew
that these men would pass the whole night in the grotto of Mithras, and
there greet “the young god”--the rising sun--with strange ceremonies;
for the inquisitive shepherdess had more than once listened, when she
had led her goats up the mountain before the break of day, and her
ear had detected that the worshippers of Mithras were performing their
nocturnal solemnities. Now it flashed across her mind, that Sirona was
alone, and that the late visit of Hermas probably concerned her, and not
the senator.

She started, there was quite a pain in her heart, and, as usual, when
any violent emotion agitated her mind, she involuntarily sprang to her
feet prompted by the force of her passion, and had almost reached the
door, when the senator’s voice brought her to a pause, and recalled her
to the consciousness of the impropriety of her behavior.

The sick man still lay with his inflamed wound and fever down in the
court, and she knew that she should escape blame if in answer to her
master’s stern questioning she said that the patient needed her, but
she had never told a lie, and her pride forbade her even now to speak an
untruth. The other slaves stared with astonishment, as she replied, “I
wanted to get out; the supper is so long.”

Petrus glanced at the window, and perceiving how high the moon stood, he
shook his head as if in wonder at his own conduct, then without blaming
her he offered a thanksgiving, gave the slaves the signal to leave
the room, and after receiving a kiss of “good-night” from each of his
children--from among whom Polykarp, the sculptor, alone was missing--he
withdrew to his own room. But he did not remain alone there for long:
so soon as Dorothea had discussed the requirements of the house for
the next day with Marthana and the steward, and had been through the
sleeping-room of her younger children, casting a loving glance on the
peaceful sleepers, arranging here a coverlet, and there a pillow--she
entered her husband’s room and called his name.

Petrus stood still and looked round, and his grave eyes were full of
grateful tenderness as they met those of his wife. Dorothea knew the
soft and loving heart within the stern exterior, and nodded to him with
sympathetic understanding: but before she could speak, he said, “Come
in, come nearer to me; there is a heavy matter in hand, and you cannot
escape your share of the burden.”

“Give me my share!” cried she eagerly. “The slim girl of former years
has grown a broad-shouldered old woman, so that it may be easier to her
to help her lord to bear the many burdens of life. But I am seriously
anxious--even before we went to church something unsatisfactory had
happened to you, and not merely in the council-meeting. There must be
something not right with one of the children.”

“What eyes you have!” exclaimed Petrus.

“Dim, grey eyes,” said Dorothea, “and not even particularly keen. But
when anything concerns you and the children I could see it in the dark.
You are dissatisfied with Polykarp; yesterday, before he set out for
Raithu, you looked at him so--so--what shall I say? I can quite imagine
what it is all about, but I believe you are giving yourself groundless
anxiety. He is young, and so lovely a woman as Sirona--”

Up to this point Petrus had listened to his wife in silence. Now he
clasped his hands, and interrupted her, “Things certainly are not going
on quite right--but I ought to be used to it. What I meant to have
confided to you in a quiet hour, you tell me as if you knew all about
it!”

“And why not?” asked Dorothea. “When you graft a scion on to a tree, and
they have grown well together, the grafted branch feels the bite of the
saw that divides the stock, or the blessing of the spring that feeds
the roots, just as if the pain or the boon were its own. And you are
the tree and I am the graft, and the magic power of marriage has made us
one. Your pulses are my pulses, your thoughts have become mine, and so I
always know before you tell me what it is that stirs your soul.”

Dorothea’s kind eyes moistened as she spoke, and Petrus warmly clasped
her hands in his as he said, “And if the gnarled old trunk bears from
time to time some sweet fruit, he may thank the graft for it. I cannot
believe that the anchorites up yonder are peculiarly pleasing to the
Lord because they live in solitude. Man comes to his perfect humanity
only through his wife and child, and he who has them not, can never
learn the most glorious heights and the darkest depths of life and
feeling. If a man may stake his whole existence and powers for anything,
surely it is for his own house.”

“And you have honestly done so for ours!” cried Dorothea.

“For ours,” repeated Petrus, giving the words the strongest accent of
his deep voice. “Two are stronger than one, and it is long since we
ceased to say ‘I’ in discussing any question concerning the house or the
children; and both have been touched by to-day’s events.”

“The senate will not support you in constructing the road?”

“No, the bishop gave the casting-vote. I need not tell you how we stand
towards each other, and I will not blame him; for he is a just man, but
in many things we can never meet half-way. You know that he was in
his youth a soldier, and his very piety is rough--I might almost say
warlike. If we had yielded to his views, and if our head man Obedianus
had not supported me, we should not have had a single picture in the
church, and it would have looked like a barn rather than a house of
prayer. We never have understood each other, and since I opposed his
wish of making Polykarp a priest, and sent the boy to learn of the
sculptor Thalassius--for even as a child he drew better than many
masters in these wretched days that produce no great artists--since
then, I say, he speaks of me as if I were a heathen--”

“And yet he esteems you highly, that I know,” interrupted Dame Dorothea.

“I fully return his good opinion,” replied Petrus, “and it is no
ordinary matter that estranges. He thinks that he only holds the true
faith, and ought to fight for it; he calls all artistic work a heathen
abomination; he never felt the purifying influence of the beautiful, and
regards all pictures and statues as tending to idolatry. Still he allows
himself to admire Polykarp’s figures of angels and the Good Shepherd,
but the lions put the old warrior in a rage. ‘Accursed idols and works
of the devil,’ are what he calls them.”

“But there were lions even in the temple of Solomon,” cried Dorothea.

“I urged that, and also that in the schools of the catechists, and in
the educational history of animals which we possess and teach from, the
Saviour himself is compared to a lion, and that Mark, the evangelist,
who brought the doctrine of the gospel to Alexandria, is represented
with a lion. But he withstood me more and more violently, saying that
Polykarp’s works were to adorn no sacred place, but the Caesareum, and
that to him is nothing but a heathen edifice, and the noble works of the
Greeks that are preserved there he calls revolting images by which Satan
ensnares the souls of Christian men. The other senators can understand
his hard words, but they cannot follow mine; and so they vote with him,
and my motion to construct the roadway was thrown over, because it did
not become a Christian assembly to promote idolatry, and to smooth a way
for the devil.”

“I can see that you must have answered them sharply!”

“Indeed I believe so,” answered Petrus, looking down. “Many painful
things were no doubt said, and it was I that suffered for them.
Agapitus, who was looking at the deacons’ reports, was especially
dissatisfied with the account that I laid before them; they blamed us
severely because you gave away as much bread to heathen households as to
Christians. It is no doubt true, but--”

“But,” cried Dorothea eagerly, “hunger is just as painful to the
unbaptized, and their Christian neighbors do not help them, and yet they
too are our flesh and blood. I should ill fulfil my office if I were to
let them starve, because the highest comfort is lacking to them.”

“And yet,” said Petrus, “the council decided that, for the future, you
must apply at the most a fourth part of the grain allotted to their use.
You need not fear for them; for the future some of our own produce may
go to them out of what we have hitherto sold. You need not withdraw even
a loaf from any one of your proteges, but certainly may now be laid by
the plans for the road. Indeed there is no hurry for its completion, for
Polykarp will now hardly be able to go on with his lions here among
us. Poor fellow! with what delight he formed the clay models, and
how wonderfully he succeeded in reproducing the air and aspect of the
majestic beasts. It is as if he were inspired by the spirit of the old
Athenian masters. We must now consider whether in Alexandria--”

“Rather let us endeavor,” interrupted Dorothea, “to induce him at once
to put aside his models, and to execute other more pious works. Agapitus
has keen eyes, and the heathen work is only too dear to the lad’s
heart.”

The senator’s brow grew dark at the last words, and he said, not without
some excitement, “Everything that the heathen do is not to be condemned.
Polykarp must be kept busy, constantly and earnestly occupied, for he
has set his eyes where they should not be set. Sirona is the wife of
another, and even in sport no man should try to win his neighbor’s wife.
Do you think, the Gaulish woman is capable of forgetting her duty?”

Dorothea hesitated, and after some reflection answered, “She is a
beautiful and vain child--a perfect child; I mean in nature, and not
in years, although she certainly might be the grandchild of her strange
husband, for whom she feels neither love nor respect, nor, indeed,
anything but utter aversion. I know not what, but something frightful
must have come between them even in Rome, and I have given up all
attempts to guide her heart back to him. In everything else she is soft
and yielding, and often, when she is playing with the children, I
cannot imagine where she finds her reckless gaiety. I wish she were
a Christian, for she is very dear to me, why should I deny it? It is
impossible to be sad when she is by, and she is devoted to me, and
dreads my blame, and is always striving to win my approbation. Certainly
she tries to please every one, even the children; but, so far as I can
see, not more Polykarp than any one else, although he is such a fine
young man. No, certainly not.”

“And yet the boy gazes at her,” said Petrus, “and Phoebicius has noticed
it; he met me yesterday when I came home, and, in his sour, polite
manner, requested me to advise my son, when he wished to offer a rose,
not to throw it into his window, as he was not fond of flowers, and
preferred to gather them himself for his wife.”

The senator’s wife turned pale, and then exclaimed shortly and
positively, “We do not need a lodger, and much as I should miss his
wife, the best plan will be for you to request him to find another
dwelling.”

“Say no more, wife,” Petrus said, sternly, and interrupting her with a
wave of his hand. “Shall we make Sirona pay, for it because our son has
committed a folly for her sake? You yourself said, that her intercourse
with the children, and her respect for you, preserve her from evil, and
now shall we show her the door? By no means. The Gauls may remain in my
house so long as nothing occurs that compels me to send them out of it.
My father was a Greek, but through my mother I have Amalekite blood in
my veins, and I should dishonor myself, if I drove from my threshold
any, with whom I had once broken bread under my roof. Polykarp shall be
warned, and shall learn what he owes to us, to himself, and to the laws
of God. I know how to value his noble gifts, and I am his friend, but
I am also his master, and I will find means of preventing my son from
introducing the light conduct of the capital beneath his father’s roof.”

The last words were spoken with weight and decision, like the blows of a
hammer, and stern resolve sparkled in the senator’s eyes. Nevertheless,
his wife went fearlessly up to him, and said, laying her hand on his
arm, “It is, indeed, well that a man can keep his eyes set on what is
just, when we women should follow the hasty impulse of our heart. Even
in wrestling, men only fight with lawful and recognized means, while
fighting women use their teeth and nails. You men understand better how
to prevent injustice than we do, and that you have once more proved to
me, but, in carrying justice out, you are not our superiors. The Gauls
may remain in our house, and do you take Polykarp severely to task, but
in the first instance as his friend. Or would it not be better if you
left it to me? He was so happy in thinking of the competition of his
lions, and in having to work for the great building in the capital, and
now it is all over. I wish you had already broken that to him; but love
stories are women’s affairs, and you know how good the boy is to me. A
mother’s word sometimes has more effect than a father’s blow, and it is
in life as it is in war; the light forces of archers go first into the
field, and the heavily armed division stays in the background to support
them; then, if the enemy will not yield, it comes forward and decides
the battle. First let me speak to the lad. It may be that he threw the
rose into Sirona’s window only in sport, for she plays with his brothers
and sisters as if she herself were one of them. I will question him;
for if it is so, it would be neither just nor prudent to blame him. Some
caution is needed even in giving a warning; for many a one, who would
never have thought of stealing, has become a thief through false
suspicion. A young heart that is beginning to love, is like a wild boy
who always would rather take the road he is warned to avoid, and when
I was a girl, I myself first discovered how much I liked you, when the
Senator Aman’s wife--who wanted you for her own daughter--advised me to
be on my guard with you. A man who has made such good use of his time,
among all the temptations of the Greek Sodom, as Polykarp, and who has
won such high praise from all his teachers and masters, cannot have been
much injured by the light manners of the Alexandrians. It is in a man’s
early years that he takes the bent which he follows throughout his later
life, and that he had done before he left our house. Nay--even if I did
not know what a good fellow Polykarp is--I need only look at you to say,
‘A child that was brought up by this father, could never turn out a bad
man.’”

Petrus sadly shrugged his shoulders, as though he regarded his wife’s
flattering words as mere idle folly, and yet he smiled, as he asked,
“Whose school of rhetoric did you go to? So be it then; speak to the
lad when he returns from Raithu. How high the moon is already; come to
rest--Antonius is to place the altar in the early dawn, and I wish to be
present.”



CHAPTER IX.

Miriam’s ears had not betrayed her. While she was detained at supper,
Hermas had opened the courtyard-gate; he came to bring the senator
a noble young buck, that he had killed a few hours before, as a
thank-offering for the medicine to which his father owed his recovery.
It would no doubt have been soon enough the next morning, but he could
find no rest up on the mountain, and did not--and indeed did not care
to--conceal from himself the fact, that the wish to give expression to
his gratitude attracted him down into the oasis far less than the hope
of seeing Sirona, and of hearing a word from her lips.

Since their first meeting he had seen her several times, and had even
been into her house, when she had given him the wine for his father,
and when he had taken back the empty flask. Once, as she was filling
the bottle which he held, out of the large jar, her white fingers had
touched his, and her enquiry whether he were afraid of her, or if not,
why his hands which looked so strong should tremble so violently, dwelt
still in his mind. The nearer he approached Petrus’s house the more
vehemently his heart beat; he stood still in front of the gate-way, to
take breath, and to collect himself a little, for he felt that, agitated
as he was, he would find it difficult to utter any coherent words.

At last he laid his hand on the latch and entered the yard. The
watch-dogs already knew him, and only barked once as he stepped over the
threshold.

He brought a gift in his hand, and he wanted to take nothing away, and
yet he appeared to himself just like a thief as he looked round, first
at the main building lighted up by the moon, and then at the Gaul’s
dwelling-house, which, veiled in darkness, stood up as a vague
silhouette, and threw a broad dark shadow on the granite flags of the
pavement, which was trodden to shining smoothness. There was not a soul
to be seen, and the reek of the roast sheep told him that Petrus and his
household were assembled at supper.

“I might come inopportunely on the feasters,” said he to himself, as he
threw the buck over from his left to his right shoulder, and looked up
at Sirona’s window, which he knew only too well.

It was not lighted up, but a whiter and paler something appeared within
its dark stone frame, and this something, attracted his gaze with an
irresistible spell; it moved, and Sirona’s greyhound set up a sharp
barking.

It was she--it must be she! Her form rose before his fancy in all its
brilliant beauty, and the idea flashed through his mind that she must
be alone, for he had met her husband and the old slave woman among the
worshippers of Mithras on their way to the mountain. The pious youth,
who so lately had punished his flesh with the scourge to banish
seductive dream-figures, had in these few days become quite another man.
He would not leave the mountain, for his father’s sake, but he was quite
determined no longer to avoid the way of the world; nay, rather to seek
it. He had abandoned the care of his father to the kindly Paulus, and
had wandered about among the rocks; there he had practised throwing the
discus, he had hunted the wild goats and beasts of prey, and from time
to time--but always with some timidity--he had gone down into the oasis
to wander round the senator’s house, and catch a glimpse of Sirona.

Now that he knew that she was alone, he was irresistibly drawn to her.
What he desired of her, he himself could not have said; and nothing was
clear to his mind beyond the wish to touch her fingers once more.

Whether this were a sin or not, was all the same to him; the most
harmless play was called a sin, and every thought of the world for which
he longed, and he was fully resolved to take the sin upon himself, if
only he might attain his end. Sin after all was nothing but a phantom
terror with which they frighten children, and the worthy Petrus had
assured him that he might be a man capable of great deeds. With a
feeling that he was venturing on an unheard of act he went towards
Sirona’s window, and she at once recognized him as he stood in the
moonlight.

“Hermas!” he heard her say softly. He was seized with such violent
terror that he stood as if spellbound, the goat slipped from his
shoulders, and he felt as if his heart had ceased to beat. And again the
sweet woman’s voice called, “Hermas, is it you? What brings you to us at
such a late hour?”

He stammered an incoherent answer, and “I do not understand; come a
little nearer.” Involuntarily he stepped forward into the shadow of the
house and close up to her window. She wore a white robe with wide, open
sleeves, and her arms shone in the dim light as white as her garment.
The greyhound barked again; she quieted it, and then asked Hermas how
his father was, and whether he needed some more wine. He replied
that she was very kind, angelically kind, but that the sick man was
recovering fast, and that she had already given him far too much.
Neither of them said anything that might not have been heard by
everybody, and yet they whispered as if they were speaking of some
forbidden thing.

“Wait a moment,” said Sirona, and she disappeared within the room, she
soon reappeared, and said solid and sadly, “I would ask you to come into
the house but Phoebicius has locked the door. I am quite alone, hold the
flask so that I may fill it through the open window.”

With these words she leaned over with the large jar--she was strong, but
the wine-jar seemed to her heavier than on other occasions, and she said
with a sigh, “The amphora is too heavy for me.”

He reached up to help her; again his fingers met hers, and again he
felt the ecstatic thrill which had haunted his memory day and night ever
since he first had felt it. At this instant there was a sudden noise in
the house opposite; the slaves were coming out from supper. Sirona knew
what was happening; she started and cried out, pointing to the senator’s
door, “For all the gods’ sake! they are coming out, and if they see you
here I am lost!”

Hermas looked hastily round the court, and listened to the increasing
noise in the other house, then, perceiving that there was no possible
escape from the senator’s people, who were close upon him, he cried
out to Sirona in a commanding tone, “Stand back,” and flung himself up
through the window into the Gaul’s apartment. At the same moment the
door opposite opened, and the slaves streamed out into the yard.

In front of them all was Miriam, who looked all round the wide
space-expectant; seeking something, and disappointed. He was not there,
and yet she had heard him come in; and the gate had not opened and
closed a second time, of that she was perfectly certain. Some of the
slaves went to the stables, others went outside the gate into the street
to enjoy the coolness of the evening; they sat in groups on the ground,
looking up at the stars, chattering or singing. Only the shepherdess
remained in the court-yard seeking him on all sides, as if she were
hunting for some lost trinket. She searched even behind the millstones,
and in the dark sheds in which the stone-workers’ tools were kept.

Then she stood still a moment and clenched her hands; with a few light
bounds she sprang into the shadow of the Gaul’s house. Just in front
of Sirona’s window lay the steinbock; she hastily touched it with her
slender naked toes, but quickly withdrew her foot with a shudder, for
it had touched the beast’s fresh wound, wet with its blood. She rapidly
drew the conclusion that: he had killed it, and had thrown it down
here, and that he could not be far off. Now she knew where he was in
hiding-and she tried to laugh, for the pain she felt seemed too acute
and burning for tears to allay or cool it. But she did not wholly lose
her power of reflection. “They are in the dark,” thought she, “and they
would see me, if I crept under the window to listen; and yet I must know
what they are doing there together.”

She hastily turned her back on Sirona’s house, slipped into the clear
moonlight, and after standing there for a few minutes, went into
the slaves’ quarters. An instant after, she slipped out behind the
millstones, and crept as cleverly and as silently as a snake along the
ground under the darkened base of the centurion’s house, and lay close
under Sirona’s window.

Her loudly beating heart made it difficult for even her sharp ears
to hear, but though she could not gather all that he said, she
distinguished the sound of his voice; he was no longer in Sirona’s room,
but in the room that looked out on the street.

Now she could venture to raise herself, and to look in at the open
window; the door of communication between the two rooms was closed, but
a streak of light showed her that in the farther room, which was the
sitting-room, a lamp was burning.

She had already put up her hand in order to hoist herself up into the
dark room, when a gay laugh from Sirona fell upon her ear. The image of
her enemy rose up before her mind, brilliant and flooded with light as
on that morning, when Hermas had stood just opposite, bewildered by her
fascination. And now--now--he was actually lying at her feet, and saying
sweet flattering words to her, and he would speak to her of love, and
stretch out his arm to clasp her--but she had laughed.

Now she laughed again. Why was all so still again?

Had she offered her rosy lips for a kiss? No doubt, no doubt. And Hermas
did not wrench himself from her white arms, as he had torn himself from
hers that noon by the spring-torn himself away never to return.

Cold drops stood on her brow, she buried her hands in her thick, black
hair, and a loud cry escaped her--a cry like that of a tortured animal.
A few minutes more and she had slipped through the stable and the gate
by which they drove the cattle in; and no longer mistress of herself,
was flying up the mountain to the grotto of Mithras to warn Phoebicius.

The anchorite Gelasius saw from afar the figure of the girl flying up
the mountain in the moonlight, and her shadow flitting from stone to
stone, and he threw himself on the ground, and signed a cross on his
brow, for he thought he saw a goblin-form, one of the myriad gods of
the heathen--an Oread pursued by a Satyr. Sirona had heard the girl’s
shriek.

“What was that?” she asked the youth, who stood before her in the
full-dress uniform of a Roman officer, as handsome as the young god of
war, though awkward and unsoldierly in his movements.

“An owl screamed--” replied Hermas. “My father must at last tell me from
what house we are descended, and I will go to Byzantium, the new Rome,
and say to the emperor, ‘Here am I, and I will fight for you among your
warriors.’”

“I like you so!” exclaimed Sirona.

“If that is the truth,” cried Hermas, “prove it to me! Let me once press
my lips to your shining gold hair. You are beautiful, as sweet as a
flower--as gay and bright as a bird, and yet as hard as our mountain
rock. If you do not grant me one kiss, I shall long till I am sick and
weak before I can get away from here, and prove my strength in battle.”

“And if I yield,” laughed Sirona, “you will be wanting another and
another kiss, and at last not get away at all. No, no, my friend--I am
the wiser of us two. Now go into the dark room, I will look out and see
whether the people are gone in again, and whether you can get off unseen
from the street window, for you have been here much too long already. Do
you hear? I command you.”

Hermas obeyed with a sigh; Sirona opened the shutter and looked out. The
slaves were coming back into the court, and she called out a friendly
word or two, which were answered with equal friendliness, for the
Gaulish lady, who never overlooked even the humblest, was dear to them
all. She took in the night-air with deep-drawn breaths, and looked up
contentedly at the moon, for she was well content with herself.

When Hermas had swung himself up into her room, she had started back in
alarm; he had seized her hand and pressed his burning lips to her arm,
and she let him do it, for she was overcome with strange bewilderment.

Then she heard Dame Dorothea calling out, “Directly, directly, I will
only say good night first to the children.” These simple words,
uttered in Dorothea’s voice, had a magical effect on the warm-hearted
woman--badly used and suspected as she was, and yet so well formed for
happiness, love and peace. When her husband had locked her in, taking
even her slave with him, at first she had raved, wept, meditated revenge
and flight, and at last, quite broken down, had seated herself by
the window in silent thought of her beautiful home, her brothers and
sisters, and the dark olive groves of Arelas.

Then Hermas appeared. It had not escaped her that the young anchorite
passionately admired her, and she was not displeased, for she liked him,
and the confusion with which he had been overcome at the sight of her
flattered her and seemed to her doubly precious because she knew that
the hermit in his sheepskin, on whom she had bestowed a gift of wine,
was in fact a young man of distinguished rank. And how truly to be
pitied was the poor boy, who had had his youth spoilt by a stern father.
A woman easily bestows some tender feeling on the man that she pities;
perhaps because she is grateful to him for the pleasure of feeling
herself the stronger, and because through him and his suffering she
finds gratification for the noblest happiness of a woman’s heart--that
of giving tender and helpful care; women’s hands are softer than ours.
In men’s hearts love is commonly extinguished when pity begins,
while admiration acts like sunshine on the budding plant of a woman’s
inclination, and pity is the glory which radiates from her heart.

Neither admiration nor pity, however, would have been needed to induce
Sirona to call Hermas to her window; she felt so unhappy and lonely,
that any one must have seemed welcome from whom she might look for a
friendly and encouraging word to revive her deeply wounded self-respect.
And there came the young anchorite, who forgot himself and everything
else in her presence, whose looks, whose movement, whose very silence
even seemed to do homage to her. And then his bold spring into her room,
and his eager wooing--“This is love,” said she to herself. Her cheeks
glowed, and when Hermas clasped her hand, and pressed her arm to his
lips, she could not repulse him, till Dorothea’s voice reminded her of
the worthy lady and of the children, and through them of her own far-off
sisters.

The thought of these pure beings flowed over her troubled spirit like a
purifying stream, and the question passed through her mind, “What should
I be without these good folks over there, and is this great love-sick
boy, who stood before Polykarp just lately looking like a school-boy,
is he so worthy that I should for his sake give up the right of looking
them boldly in the face?” And she pushed Hermas roughly away, just as he
was venturing for the first time to apply his lips to her perfumed gold
hair, and desired him to be less forward, and to release her hand.

She spoke in a low voice, but with such decision, that the lad, who was
accustomed to the habit of obedience, unresistingly allowed her to push
him into the sitting-room. There was a lamp burning on the table, and
on a bench by the wall of the room, which was lined with colored stucco,
lay the helmet, the centurion’s staff, and the other portions of the
armor which Phoebicius had taken off before setting out for the feast of
Mithras, in order to assume the vestments of one of the initiated of the
grade of “Lion.”

The lamp-light revealed Sirona’s figure, and as she stood before him in
all her beauty with glowing cheeks, the lad’s heart began to beat high,
and with increased boldness he opened his arms, and endeavored to draw
her to him; but Sirona avoided him and went behind the table, and,
leaning her hands on its polished surface while it protected her like a
shield, she lectured him in wise and almost motherly words against his
rash, intemperate, and unbecoming behavior.

Any one who was learned in the heart of woman might have smiled at such
words from such lips and in such an hour; but Hermas blushed and cast
down his eyes, and knew not what to answer. A great change had come
over the Gaulish lady; she felt a great pride in her virtue, and in the
victory she had won over herself, and while she sunned herself in the
splendor of her own merits, she wished that Hermas too should feel and
recognize them. She began to expatiate on all that she had to forego and
to endure in the oasis, and she discoursed of virtue and the duties of a
wife, and of the wickedness and audacity of men.

Hermas, she said, was no better than the rest, and because she had shown
herself somewhat kind to him, he fancied already that he had a claim on
her liking; but he was greatly mistaken, and if only the courtyard had
been empty, she would long ago have shown him the door.

The young hermit was soon only half listening to all she said, for his
attention had been riveted by the armor which lay before him, and which
gave a new direction to his excited feelings. He involuntarily put
out his hand towards the gleaming helmet, and interrupted the pretty
preacher with the question, “May I try it on?”

Sirona laughed out loud and exclaimed, much amused and altogether
diverted from her train of thought, “To be sure. You ought to be a
soldier. How well it suits you! Take off your nasty sheepskin, and let
us see how the anchorite looks as a centurion.”

Hermas needed no second telling; he decked himself in the Gaul’s armor
with Sirona’s help. We human beings must indeed be in a deplorable
plight; otherwise how is it that from our earliest years we find such
delight in disguising ourselves; that is to say, in sacrificing our
own identity to the tastes of another whose aspect we borrow. The child
shares this inexplicable pleasure with the sage, and the stern man who
should condemn it would not therefore be the wiser, for he who wholly
abjures folly is a fool all the more certainly the less he fancies
himself one. Even dressing others has a peculiar charm, especially for
women; it is often a question which has the greater pleasure, the maid
who dresses her mistress or the lady who wears the costly garment.

Sirona was devoted to every sort of masquerading. If it had been needful
to seek a reason why the senator’s children and grandchildren were so
fond of her, by no means last or least would have been the fact that
she would willingly and cheerfully allow herself to be tricked out in
colored kerchiefs, ribands, and flowers, and on her part could contrive
the most fantastic costumes for them. So soon as she saw Hermas with
the helmet on, the fancy seized her to carry through the travesty he
had begun. She eagerly and in perfect innocence pulled the coat of armor
straight, helped him to buckle the breastplate and to fasten on the
sword, and as she performed the task, at which Hermas proved himself
unskilful enough, her gay and pleasant laugh rang out again and again.
When he sought to seize her hand, as he not seldom did, she hit him
sharply on the fingers, and scolded him.

Hermas’ embarrassment thawed before this pleasant sport, and soon he
began to tell her how hateful the lonely life on the mountain was to
him. He told her that Petrus himself had advised him to try his strength
out in the world, and he confided to her that if his father got well,
he meant to be a soldier, and do great deeds. She quite agreed with him,
praised and encouraged him, then she criticised his slovenly deportment,
showed him with comical gravity how a warrior ought to stand and walk,
called herself his drill-master, and was delighted at the zeal with
which he strove to imitate her.

In such play the hours passed quickly. Hermas was proud of himself in
his soldierly garb, and was happy in her presence and in the hope of
future triumphs; and Sirona was gay, as she had usually been only when
playing with the children, so that even Miriam’s wild cry, which the
youth explained to be the scream of an owl, only for a moment reminded
her of the danger in which she was placing herself. Petrus’ slaves had
long gone to rest before she began to weary of amusing herself with
Hermas, and desired him to lay aside her husband’s equipment, and to
leave her. Hermas obeyed while she warily opened the shutters, and
turning to him, said, “You cannot venture through the court-yard; you
must go through this window into the open street. But there is some one
coming down the road; let him pass first, it will not be long to wait,
for he is walking quickly.”

She carefully drew the shutters to, and laughed to see how clumsily
Hermas set to work to unbuckle the greaves; but the gay laugh died
upon her lips when the gate flew open, the greyhound and the senator’s
watch-dogs barked loudly, and she recognized her husband’s voice as he
ordered the dogs to be quiet.

“Fly-fly-for the gods’ sake!” she cried in a trembling voice. With that
ready presence of mind with which destiny arms the weakest woman in
great and sudden danger, she extinguished the lamp, flung open the
shutter, and pushed Hermas to the window. The boy did not stay to bid
her farewell, but swung himself with a strong leap down into the
road, and, followed by the barking of the dogs, which roused all the
neighboring households, he flew up the street to the little church.

He had not got more than half-way when he saw a man coming towards him;
he sprang into the shadow of a house, but the belated walker accelerated
his steps, and came straight up to him. He set off running again, but
the other pursued him, and kept close at his heels till he had passed
all the houses and began to go up the mountain-path. Hermas felt that he
was outstripping his pursuer, and was making ready for a spring over a
block of stone that encumbered the path, when he heard his name called
behind him, and he stood still, for he recognized the voice of the man
from whom he was flying as that of his good friend Paulus.

“You indeed,” said the Alexandrian, panting for breath. “Yes, you are
swifter than I. Years hang lead on our heels, but do you know what it
is that lends them the swiftest wings? You have just learned it! It is a
bad conscience; and pretty things will be told about you; the dogs have
barked it all out loud enough to the night.”

“And so they may!” replied Hermas defiantly, and trying in vain to free
himself from the strong grasp of the anchorite who held him firmly. “I
have done nothing wrong.”

“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife!” interrupted Paulus in a tone
of stern severity. “You have been with the centurion’s pretty wife, and
were taken by surprise. Where is your sheepskin?”

Hermas started, felt on his shoulder, and exclaimed, striking his fist
against his forehead, “Merciful Heaven!--I have left it there! The
raging Gaul will find it.”

“He did not actually see you there?” asked Paulus eagerly.

“No, certainly not,” groaned Hermas, “but the skin--”

“Well, well,” muttered Paulus. “Your sin is none the less, but something
may be done in that case. Only think if it came to your father’s ears;
it might cost him his life.”

“And that poor Sirona!” sighed Hermas.

“Leave me to settle that,” exclaimed Paulus. “I will make everything
straight with her. There, take sheepskin. You will not? Well, to be
sure, the man who does not fear to commit adultery would make nothing
of becoming his father’s murderer.--There, that is the way! fasten it
together over your shoulders; you will need it, for you must quit this
spot, and not for to-day and to-morrow only. You wanted to go out into
the world, and now you will have the opportunity of showing whether you
really are capable of walking on your own feet. First go to Raithu and
greet the pious Nikon in my name, and tell him that I remain here on
the mountain, for after long praying in the church I have found myself
unworthy of the office of elder which they offered me. Then get yourself
carried by some ship’s captain across the Red Sea, and wander up and
down the Egyptian coast. The hordes of the Blemmyes have lately shown
themselves there; keep your eye on them, and when the wild bands
are plotting some fresh outbreak you can warn the watch on the
mountain-peaks; how to cross the sea and so outstrip them, it will
be your business to find out. Do you feel bold enough and capable of
accomplishing this task? Yes? So I expected! Now may the Lord guide you.
I will take care of your father, and his blessing and your mother’s will
rest upon you if you sincerely repent, and if you now do your duty.”

“You shall learn that I am a man,” cried Hermas with sparkling eyes. “My
bow and arrows are lying in your cave, I will fetch them and then--aye!
you shall see whether you sent the right man on the errand. Greet my
father, and once more give me your hand.”

Paulus grasped the boy’s right hand, drew him to him, and kissed his
forehead with fatherly tenderness. Then he said, “In my cave, under the
green stone, you will find six gold-pieces; take three of them with you
on your journey. You will probably need them at any rate to pay your
passage. Now be off, and get to Raithu in good time.”

Hermas hurried up the mountain, his head full of the important task that
had been laid upon him; dazzling visions of the great deeds he was
to accomplish eclipsed the image of the fair Sirona, and he was so
accustomed to believe in the superior insight and kindness of Paulus
that he feared no longer for Sirona now that his friend had made her
affair his own.

The Alexandrian looked after him, and breathed a short prayer for him;
then he went down again into the valley.

It was long past midnight, and the moon was sinking; it grew cooler and
cooler, and since he had given his sheepskin to Hermas he had nothing
on, but his thread-bare coat. Nevertheless he went slowly onwards,
stopping every now and then, moving his arms, and speaking incoherent
words in a low tone to himself.

He thought of Hermas and Sirona, of his own youth, and of how in
Alexandria he himself had tapped at the shutters of the dark-haired Aso,
and the fair Simaitha.

“A child--a mere boy,” he murmured. “Who would have thought it? The
Gaulish woman no doubt may be handsome, and as for him, it is a fact,
that as he threw the discus I was myself surprised at his noble figure.
And his eyes--aye, he has Magdalen’s eyes! If the Gaul had found him
with his wife, and had run his sword through his heart, he would have
gone unpunished by the earthly judge--however, his father is spared this
sorrow. In this desert the old man thought that his darling could not be
touched by the world and its pleasures. And now? These brambles I once
thought lay dried up on the earth, and could never get up to the top of
the palm-tree where the dates ripen, but a bird flew by, and picked up
the berries, and carried them into its nest at the highest point of the
tree.

“Who can point out the road that another will take, and say to-day,
‘To-morrow I shall find him thus and not otherwise.’

“We fools flee into the desert in order to forget the world, and the
world pursues us and clings to our skirts. Where are the shears that are
keen enough to cut the shadow from beneath our feet? What is the prayer
that can effectually release us--born of the flesh--from the burden of
the flesh? My Redeemer, Thou Only One, who knowest it, teach it to me,
the basest of the base.”



CHAPTER X.

Within a few minutes after Hermas had flung himself out of window into
the roadway, Phoebicius walked into his sleeping-room. Sirona had had
time to throw herself on to her couch; she was terribly frightened, and
had turned her face to the wall. Did he actually know that some one
had been with her? And who could have betrayed her, and have called him
home? Or could he have come home by accident sooner than usual?

It was dark in the room, and he could not see her face, and yet she kept
her eyes shut as if asleep, for every fraction of a minute in which she
could still escape seeing him in his fury seemed a reprieve; and yet her
heart beat so violently that it seemed to her that he must hear it, when
he approached the bed with a soft step that was peculiar to him.
She heard him walk up and down, and at last go into the kitchen that
adjoined the sleeping-room. In a few moments she perceived through her
half-closed eyes, that he, had brought in a light; he had lighted a lamp
at the hearth, and now searched both the rooms.

As yet he had not spoken to her, nor opened his lips to utter a word.

Now he was in the sitting-room, and now--involuntarily she drew herself
into a heap, and pulled the coverlet over her head--now he laughed
aloud, so loud and scornfully, that she felt her hands and feet turn
cold, and a rushing crimson mist floated before her eyes. Then the light
came back into the bed-room, and came nearer and nearer. She felt her
head pushed by his hard hand, and with a feeble scream she flung off the
coverlet and sat up.

Still he did not speak a word, but what she saw was quite enough to
smother the last spark of her courage and hope, for her husband’s eyes
showed only the whites, his sallow features were ashy-pale, and on his
brow the branded mark of Mithras stood out more clearly than ever. In
his right hand he held the lamp, in his left Hermas’ sheepskin.

As his haggard eye met hers he held the anchorite’s matted garment so
close to her face, that it touched her. Then he threw it violently on
the floor, and asked in a low, husky voice, “What is that?”

She was silent. He went up to the little table near her bed; on it stood
her night-draught in a pretty colored glass, that Polykarp had brought
her from Alexandria as a token, and with the back of his hand he swept
it from the table, so that it fell on the dais, and flew with a crash
into a thousand fragments. She screamed, the greyhound sprang up and
barked at the Gaul. He seized the little beast’s collar, and flung it
so violently across the room, that it uttered a pitiful cry of pain. The
dog had belonged to Sirona since she was quite a girl, it had come
with her to Rome, and from thence to the oasis; it clung to her with
affection, and she to it, for Iambe liked no one to caress and stroke
her so much as her mistress. She was so much alone, and the greyhound
was always with her, and not only entertained her by such tricks as any
other dog might have learned, but was to her a beloved, dumb, but by no
means deaf, companion from her early home, who would prick its ears when
she spoke the name of her dear little sisters in distant Arelas, from
whom she had not heard for years; or it would look sadly in her face,
and kiss her white hands, when longing forced tears into her eyes.

In her solitary, idle, childless existence Iambe was much, very much,
to her, and now as she saw her faithful companion and friend creep
ill-treated and whining up to her bed--as the supple animal tried
in vain to spring up and take refuge in her lap, and held out to his
mistress his trembling, perhaps broken, little paw, fear vanished from
the miserable young woman’s heart--she sprang from her couch, took the
little dog in her arms, and exclaimed with a glance, which flashed with
anything rather than fear or repentance: “You do not touch the poor
little beast again, if you take my advice.”

“I will drown it to-morrow morning,” replied Phoebicius with perfect
indifference, but with an evil smile on his flaccid lips. “So many
two-legged lovers make themselves free to my house, that I do not see
why I should share your affections with a quadruped into the bargain.
How came this sheepskin here?” Sirona vouchsafed no answer to this
last question, but she exclaimed in great excitement, “By God--by your
God--by the mighty Rock, and by all the gods! if you do the little beast
a harm, it will be the last day I stop in your house.”

“Hear her!” said the centurion, “and where do you propose to travel to?
The desert is wide and there is room and to spare to starve in it, and
for your bones to bleach there. How grieved your lovers would be--for
their sakes I will take care before drowning the dog to lock in its
mistress.”

“Only try to touch me,” screamed Sirona beside herself, and springing
to the window. “If you lay a finger on me, I will call for help, and
Dorothea and her husband will protect me against you.”

“Hardly,” answered Phoebicius drily. “It would suit you no doubt to find
yourself under the same roof as that great boy who brings you colored
glass, and throws roses into your window, and perhaps has strewed the
road with them by which he found his way to you to-day. But there are
nevertheless laws which protect the Roman citizen from criminals and
impudent seducers. You were always a great deal too much in the house
over there, and you have exchanged your games with the little screaming
beggars for one with the grownup child, the rose-thrower-the fop, who,
for your sake, and not to be recognized, covers up his purple coat with
a sheepskin! Do you think, you can teach me anything about lovesick
night-wanderers and women?

“I see through it all! Not one step do you set henceforth across Petrus’
threshold. There is the open window--scream--scream as loud as you will,
and let all the people know of your disgrace. I have the greatest mind
to carry this sheepskin to the judge, the first thing in the morning.
I shall go now, and set the room behind the kitchen in order for you;
there is no window there through which men in sheepskin can get in to
my house. You shall live there till you are tamed, and kiss my feet, and
confess what has been going on here to-night. I shall learn nothing from
the senator’s slaves, that I very well know; for you have turned all
their heads too--they grin with delight when they see you. All friends
are made welcome by you, even when they wear nothing but sheepskin. But
they may do what they please--I have the right keeper for you in my
own hand. I am going at once--you may scream if you like, but I should
myself prefer that you should keep quiet. As to the dog, we have not yet
heard the last of the matter; for the present I will keep him here. If
you are quiet and come to your senses, he may live for aught I care;
but if you are refractory, a rope and a stone can soon be found, and the
stream runs close below. You know I never jest--least of all just now.”

Sirona’s whole frame was in the most violent agitation. Her breath came
quickly, her limbs trembled, but she could not find words to answer him.

Phoebicius saw what was passing in her mind, and he went on, “You may
snort proudly now; but an hour will come when you will crawl up to me
like your lame dog, and pray for mercy. I have another idea--you will
want a couch in the dark room, and it must be soft, or I shall be
blamed; I will spread out the sheepskin for you. You see I know how to
value your adorer’s offerings.”

The Gaul laughed loud, seized the hermit’s garment, and went with
the lamp into the dark room behind the kitchen, in which vessels and
utensils of various sorts were kept. These he set on one side to turn
it into a sleeping-room for his wife, of whose guilt he was fully
convinced.

Who the man was for whose sake she had dishonored him, he knew not, for
Miriam had said nothing more than, “Go home, your wife is laughing with
her lover.”

While her husband was still threatening and storming, Sirona had said to
herself, that she would rather die than live any longer with this man.
That she herself was not free from fault never occurred to her mind. He
who is punished more severely than he deserves, easily overlooks his own
fault in his feeling of the judge’s injustice.

Phoebicius was right; neither Petrus nor Dorothea had it in their power
to protect her against him, a Roman citizen. If she could not contrive
to help her self she was a prisoner, and without air, light, and freedom
she could not live. During his last speech her resolution had been
quickly matured, and hardly had he turned his back and crossed the
threshold, than she hurried up to her bed, wrapped the trembling
greyhound in the coverlet, took it in her arms like a child, and ran
into the sitting-room with her light burden; the shutters were still
open of the window through which Hermas had fled into the open. With the
help of a stool she took the same way, let herself slip down from the
sill into the street, and hastened on without aim or goal--inspired only
by the wish to escape durance in the dark room, and to burst every bond
that tied her to her hated mate--up the church-hill and along the road
which lead over the mountain to the sea.

Phoebicius gave her a long start, for after having arranged her prison
he remained some time in the little room behind the kitchen, not in
order to give her time, collect his thoughts or to reflect on his future
action, but simply because he felt utterly exhausted.

The centurion was nearly sixty years of age, and his frame, originally a
powerful one, was now broken by every sort of dissipation, and could no
longer resist the effects of the strain and excitement of this night.

The lean, wiry, and very active man did not usually fall into these
fits of total enervation excepting in the daytime, for after sundown
a wonderful change would come over the gray-headed veteran, who
nevertheless still displayed much youthful energy in the exercise of his
official duties. At night his drooping eyelids, that almost veiled his
eyes, opened more wildly, his flaccid hanging under-lip closed firmly,
his long neck and narrow elongated head were held erect, and when, at a
later hour, he went out to drinking-bouts or to the service in honor
of Mithras, he might often still be taken for a fine, indomitable young
man.

But when he was drunk he was no longer gay, but wild, braggart, and
noisy. It frequently happened that before he left the carouse, while he
was still in the midst of his boon-companions, the syncope would come
upon him which had so often alarmed Sirona, and from which he could
never feel perfectly safe even when he was on duty at the head of his
soldiers.

The vehement big man in such moments offered a terrible image of
helpless impotence; the paleness of death would overspread his features,
his back was as if it were broken, and he lost his control over every
limb. His eyes only continued to move, and now and then a shudder shook
his frame. His people said that when he was in this condition, the
centurion’s ghastly demon had entered into him, and he himself believed
in this evil spirit, and dreaded it; nay, he had attempted to be
released through heathen spells, and even through Christian exorcisms.
Now he sat in the dark room on the sheepfell, which in scorn of his wife
he had spread on a hard wooden bench. His hands and feet turned cold,
his eyes glowed, and the power to move even a finger had wholly deserted
him; only his lips twitched, and his inward eye, looking back on the
past with preternaturally sharpened vision, saw, far away and beyond,
the last frightful hour.

“If,” thought he, “after my mad run down to the oasis, which few younger
men could have vied with, I had given the reins to my fury instead of
restraining it, the demon would not have mastered me so easily. How that
devil Miriam’s eyes flashed as she told me that a man was betraying me.
She certainly must have seen the wearer of the sheepskin, but I lost
sight of her before I reached the oasis; I fancy she turned and went up
the mountain. What indeed might not Sirona have done to her? That woman
snares all hearts with her eyes as a bird-catcher snares birds with his
flute. How the fine gentlemen ran after her in Rome! Did she dishonor me
there, I wonder? She dismissed the Legate Quintillus, who was so
anxious to please me--I may thank that fool of a woman that he became my
enemy--but he was older even than I, and she likes young men best. She
is like all the rest of them, and I of all men might have known it. It
is the way of the world: to-day one gives a blow and to-morrow takes
one.”

A sad smile passed over his lips, then his features settled into a stern
gravity, for various unwelcome images rose clearly before his mind, and
would not be got rid of.

His conscience stood in inverse relation to the vigor of his body. When
he was well, his too darkly stained past life troubled him little;
but when he was unmanned by weakness, he was incapable of fighting the
ghastly demon that forced upon his memory in painful vividness those
very deeds which he would most willingly have forgotten. In such hours
he must need remember his friend, his benefactor, and superior officer,
the Tribune Servianus, whose fair young wife he had tempted with a
thousand arts to forsake her husband and child, and fly with him into
the wide world; and at this moment a bewildering illusion made him fancy
that he was the Tribune Servianus, and yet at the same time himself.
Every hour of pain, and the whole bitter anguish that his betrayed
benefactor had suffered through his act when he had seduced Glycera, he
himself now seemed to realize, and at the same time the enemy that had
betrayed him, Servianus, was none other than himself, Phoebicius, the
Gaul. He tried to protect himself and meditated revenge against the
seducer, and still he could not altogether lose the sense of his own
identity.

This whirl of mad imagining, which he vainly endeavored to make clear
to himself, threatened to distract his reason, and he groaned aloud; the
sound of his own voice brought him back to actuality.

He was Phoebicius again and not another, that he knew now, and yet he
could not completely bring himself to comprehend the situation. The
image of the lovely Glycera, who had followed him to Alexandria, and
whom he had there abandoned, when he had squandered his last piece of
money and her last costly jewels in the Greek city, no longer appeared
to him alone, but always side by side with his wife Sirona.

Glycera had been a melancholy sweetheart, who had wept much, and laughed
little after running away from her husband; he fancied he could hear
her speaking soft words of reproach, while Sirona defied him with loud
threats, and dared to nod and signal to the senator’s son Polykarp.

The weary dreamer angrily shook himself, collected his thoughts, doubled
his fist, and lifted it angrily; this movement was the first sign of
returning physical energy; he stretched his limbs like a man awaking
from sleep, rubbed his eyes, pressed his hands to his temples; by
degrees full consciousness returned to him, and with it the recollection
of all that had occurred in the last hour or two.

He hastily left the dark room, refreshed himself in the kitchen with a
gulp of wine, and went up to the open window to gaze at the stars.

It was long past midnight; he was reminded of his companions now
sacrificing on the mountain, and addressed a long prayer “to the crown,”
 “the invincible sun-god,” “the great light,” “the god begotten of the
rock,” and to many other names of Mithras; for since he had belonged to
the mystics of this divinity, he had become a zealous devotee, and could
fast too with extraordinary constancy. He had already passed through
several of the eighty trials, to which a man had to subject himself
before he could attain to the highest grades of the initiated, and the
weakness which had just now overpowered him, had attacked him for the
first time, after he had for a whole week lain for hours in the snow,
besides fasting severely, in order to attain the grade of “lion.”

Sirona’s rigorous mind was revolted by all these practices, and the
decision with which she had always refused to take any part in them,
had widened the breach which, without that, parted her from her husband.
Phoebicius was, in his fashion, very much in earnest with all these
things; for they alone saved him in some measure from himself, from dark
memories, and from the fear of meeting the reward of his evil deeds in
a future life, while Sirona found her best comfort in the remembrance of
her early life, and so gathered courage to endure the miserable present
cheerfully, and to hold fast to hope for better times.

Phoebicius ended his prayer to-day--a prayer for strength to break
his wife’s strong spirit, for a successful issue to his revenge on her
seducer--ended it without haste, and with careful observance of all the
prescribed forms. Then he took two strong ropes from the wall, pulled
himself up, straight and proud, as if he were about to exhort his
soldiers to courage before a battle, cleared his throat like an orator
in the Forum before he begins his discourse, and entered the bedroom
with a dignified demeanor. Not the smallest suspicion of the possibility
of her escape troubled his sense of security, when, not finding Sirona
in the sleeping-room, he went into the sitting-room to carry out the
meditated punishment. Here again--no one.

He paused in astonishment; but the thought that she could have fled
appeared to him so insane, that he immediately and decisively dismissed
it. No doubt she feared his wrath, and was hidden under her bed or
behind the curtain which covered his clothes. “The dog,” thought he, “is
still cowering by her--” and he began to make a noise, half whistling
and half hissing, which Iambe could not bear, and which always provoked
her to bark angrily--but in vain. All was still in the vacant room,
still as death. He was now seriously anxious; at first deliberately, and
then with rapid haste, he threw the light under every vessel, into
every corner, behind every cloth, and rummaged in places that not even
a child--nay hardly a frightened bird could have availed itself of for
concealment. At last his right hand fairly dropped the ropes, and his
left, in which he held the lamp, began to tremble. He found the shutters
of the sleeping-room open; where Sirona had been sitting on the seat
looking at the moon, before Hermas had come upon the scene. “Then she is
not here!” he muttered, and setting the lamp on the little table, from
which he had just now flung Polykarp’s glass, he tore open the door, and
hurried into the courtyard. That she could have swung herself out into
the road, and have set out in the night for the open desert, had not yet
entered into his mind. He shook the door that closed in the homestead,
and found it locked; the watch-dogs roused themselves, and gave tongue,
when Phoebicius turned to Petrus’ house, and began to knock at the door
with the brazen knocker, at first softly and then with growing anger; he
considered it as certain that his wife had sought and found protection
under the senator’s roof. He could have shouted with rage and anguish,
and yet he hardly thought of his wife and the danger of losing her,
but only of Polykarp and the disgrace he had wrought upon him, and the
reparation he would exact from him, and his parents, who had dared to
tamper with his household rights--his, the imperial centurion’s.

What was Sirona to him? In the flush of an hour of excitement he had
linked her destiny to his.

At Arelas, about two years since, one of his comrades had joined their
circle of boon-companions, and had related that he had been the witness
of a remarkable scene. A number of young fellows had surrounded a boy
and had unmercifully beaten him--he himself knew not wherefore. The
little one had defended himself bravely, but was at last overcome by
numbers. “Then suddenly,” continued the soldier, “the door of a house
near the circus opened, and a young girl with long golden hair flew out,
and drove the boys to flight, and released the victim, her brother, from
his tormentors. She looked like a lioness,” cried the narrator, “Sirona
she is called, and of all the pretty girls of Arelas, she is beyond
a doubt the prettiest.” This opinion was confirmed on all sides, and
Phoebicius, who at that time had just been admitted to the grade of
“lion” among the worshippers of Mithras, and liked very well to hear
himself called “the lion,” exclaimed, “I have long been seeking a
lioness, and here it seems to me that I have found one. Phoebicius and
Sirona--the two names sound very finely together.”

On the following day he asked Sirona of her father for his wife, and
as he had to set out for Rome in a few days the wedding was promptly
celebrated. She had never before quitted Arelas, and knew not what she
was giving up, when she took leave of her father’s house perhaps for
ever. In Rome Phoebicius and his young wife met again; there many
admired the beautiful woman, and made every effort to obtain her favor,
but to him she was only a lightly won, and therefore a lightly valued,
possession; nay, ere long no more than a burden, ornamental no doubt
but troublesome to guard. When presently his handsome wife attracted
the notice of the legate, he endeavored to gain profit and advancement
through her, but Sirona had rebuffed Quintillus with such insulting
disrespect, that his superior officer became the centurion’s enemy, and
contrived to procure his removal to the oasis, which was tantamount to
banishment.

From that time he had regarded her too as his enemy, and firmly believed
that she designedly showed herself most friendly to those who seemed
most obnoxious to him, and among these he reckoned Polykarp.

Once more the knocker sounded on the senator’s door; it opened, and
Petrus himself stood before the raging Gaul, a lamp in his hand.



CHAPTER XI.

The unfortunate Paulus sat on a stone bench in front of the senator’s
door, and shivered; for, as dawn approached, the night-air grew cooler,
and he was accustomed to the warmth of the sheepskin, which he had now
given to Hermas. In his hand he held the key of the church, which he had
promised the door-keeper to deliver to Petrus; but all was so still in
the senator’s house, that he shrank from rousing the sleepers.

“What a strange night this has been!” he muttered to himself, as he drew
his short and tattered tunic closer together. “Even if it were warmer,
and if, instead of this threadbare rag, I had a sack of feathers to wrap
myself in, still I should feel a cold shiver if the spirits of hell that
wander about here were to meet me again. Now I have actually seen one
with my own eyes. Demons in women’s form rush up the mountain out of the
oasis to tempt and torture us in our sleep. What could it have been that
the goblin in a white robe and with flowing hair held in its arms?
Very likely the stone with which the incubus loads our breast when he
torments us. The other one seemed to fly, but I did not see its wings.
That side-building must be where the Gaul lives with his ungodly wife,
who has ensnared my poor Hermas. I wonder whether she is really so
beautiful! But what can a youth who has grown up among rocks and caves
know of the charms of women. He would, of course, think the first who
looked kindly at him the most enchanting of her sex. Besides she is
fair, and therefore a rare bird among the sunburnt bipeds of the desert.
The centurion surely cannot have found the sheepskin or all would not
be so still here; once since I have been here an ass has brayed, once a
camel has groaned, and now already the first cock is crowing; but not
a sound have I heard from human lips, not even a snore from the stout
senator or his buxom wife Dorothea, and it would be strange indeed if
they did not both snore.”

He rose, went up to the window of Phoebicius dwelling, and listened at
the half open shutters, but all was still.

An hour ago Miriam had been listening under Sirona’s room; after
betraying her to Phoebicius she had followed him at a distance, and had
slipped back into the court-yard through the stables; she felt that she
must learn what was happening within, and what fate had befallen Hermas
and Sirona at the hands of the infuriated Gaul. She was prepared for
anything, and the thought that the centurion might have killed them both
with the sword filled her with bitter-sweet satisfaction. Then, seeing
the light through the crack between the partly open wooden shutters, she
softly pushed them farther apart, and, resting her bare feet against the
wall, she raised herself to look in.

She saw Sirona sitting up upon her couch, and opposite to her the Gaul
with pale distorted features; at his feet lay the sheepskin; in his
right hand he held the lamp, and its light fell on the paved floor in
front of the bed, and was reflected in a large dark red pool.

“That is blood,” thought she, and she shuddered and closed her eyes.

When she reopened them she saw Sirona’s face with crimson cheeks, turned
towards her husband; she was unhurt--but Hermas?

“‘That is his blood!” she thought with anguish, and a voice seemed to
scream in her very heart, “I, his murderess, have shed it.”

Her hands lost their hold of the shutters, her feet touched the pavement
of the yard, and, driven by her bitter anguish of soul, she fled out by
the way she had come--out into the open and up to the mountain. She
felt that rather would she defy the prowling panthers, the night-chill,
hunger and thirst, than appear again before Dame Dorothea, the senator,
and Marthana, with this guilt on her soul; and the flying Miriam was one
of the goblin forms that had terrified Paulus.

The patient anchorite sat down again on the stone seat. “The frost
is really cruel,” thought he, “and a very good thing is such a woolly
sheepskin; but the Saviour endured far other sufferings than these, and
for what did I quit the world but to imitate Him, and to endure to the
end here that I may win the joys of the other world. There, where angels
soar, man will need no wretched ram’s fell, and this time certainly
selfishness has been far from me, for I really and truly suffer for
another--I am freezing for Hermas, and to spare the old man pain. I
would it were even colder! Nay, I will never, absolutely never again lay
a sheepskin over my shoulders.”

Paulus nodded his head as if to signify assent to his own resolve;
but presently he looked graver, for again it seemed to him that he was
walking in a wrong path.

“Aye! Man achieves a handful of good, and forthwith his heart swells
with a camel-load of pride. What though my teeth are chattering, I am
none the less a most miserable creature. How it tickled my vanity, in
spite of all my meditations and scruples, when they came from Raithu and
offered me the office of elder; I felt more triumphant the first time
I won with the quadriga, but I was scarcely more puffed up with pride
then, than I was yesterday. How many who think to follow the Lord
strive only to be exalted as He is; they keep well out of the way of His
abasement. Thou, O Thou Most High, art my witness that I earnestly seek
it, but so soon as the thorns tear my flesh the drops of blood turn to
roses, and if I put them aside, others come and still fling garlands in
my way. I verily believe that it is as hard here on earth to find pain
without pleasure, as pleasure without pain.”

While thus he meditated his teeth chattered with cold, but suddenly
his reflections were interrupted, for the dogs set up a loud barking.
Phoebicius was knocking at the senator’s door.

Paulus rose at once, and approached the gate-way. He could hear
every word that was spoken in the court-yard; the deep voice was the
senator’s, the high sharp tones must be the centurion’s.

Phoebicius was demanding his wife back from Petrus, as she had hidden in
his house, while Petrus positively declared that Sirona had not crossed
his threshold since the morning of the previous day.

In spite of the vehement and indignant tones in which his lodger spoke,
the senator remained perfectly calm, and presently went away to ask his
wife whether she by chance, while he was asleep, had opened the house to
the missing woman. Paulus heard the soldier’s steps as he paced up and
down the court-yard, but they soon ceased, for Dame Dorothea appeared
at the door with her husband, and on her part emphatically declared that
she knew nothing of Sirona.

“Your son Polykarp then,” interrupted Phoebicius, “will be better
informed of her whereabouts.”

“My son has been since yesterday at Raithu on business,” said Petrus
resolutely but evasively; “we expect him home to-day only.”

“It would seem that he has been quick, and has returned much sooner,”
 retorted Phoebicius. “Our preparations for sacrificing on the mountain
were no secret, and the absence of the master of the house is the
opportunity for thieves to break in--above all, for lovers who throw
roses into their ladies’ windows. You Christians boast that you regard
the marriage tie as sacred, but it seems to me that you apply the rule
only to your fellow-believers. Your sons may make free to take their
pleasure among the wives of the heathen; it only remains to be proved
whether the heathen husbands will be trifled with or not. So far as I am
concerned, I am inclined for anything rather than jesting. I would have
you to understand that I will never let Caesar’s uniform, which I wear,
be stained by disgrace, and that I am minded to search your house, and
if I find my undutiful wife and your son within its walls, I will carry
them and you before the judge, and sue for my rights.”

“You will seek in vain,” replied Petrus, commanding himself with
difficulty. “My word is yea or nay, and I repeat once more no, we
harbor neither her nor him. As for Dorothea and myself--neither of us
is inclined to interfere in your concerns, but neither will we permit
another--be he whom he may--to interfere in ours. This threshold shall
never be crossed by any but those to whom I grant permission, or by the
emperor’s judge, to whom I must yield. You, I forbid to enter. Sirona is
not here, and you would do better to seek her elsewhere than to fritter
away your time here.”

“I do not require your advice!” cried the centurion wrathfully.

“And I,” retorted Petrus, “do not feel myself called upon to arrange
your matrimonial difficulties. Besides you can get back Sirona without
our help, for it is always more difficult to keep a wife safe in the
house, than to fetch her back when she has run away.”

“You shall learn whom you have to deal with!” threatened the centurion,
and he threw a glance round at the slaves, who had collected in the
court, and who had been joined by the senator’s eldest son. “I shall
call my people together at once, and if you have the seducer among you
we will intercept his escape.”

“Only wait an hour,” said Dorothea, now taking up the word, while she
gently touched her husband’s hand, for his self-control was almost
exhausted, “I and you will see Polykarp ride home on his father’s horse.
Is it only from the roses that my son threw into your wife’s window,
that you suppose him to be her seducer--she plays so kindly with all
his brothers and sisters--or are there other reasons, which move you to
insult and hurt us with so heavy an accusation?”

Often when wrathful men threaten to meet with an explosion, like black
thunder-clouds, a word from the mouth of a sensible woman gives them
pause, and restrains them like a breath of soft wind.

Phoebicius had no mind to listen to any speech from Polykarp’s mother,
but her question suggested to him for the first time a rapid retrospect
of all that had occurred, and he could not conceal from himself that his
suspicions rested on weak grounds. And at the same time he now said to
himself, that if indeed Sirona had fled into the desert instead of to
the senator’s house he was wasting time, and letting the start, which
she had already gained, increase in a fatal degree.

But few seconds were needed for these reflections, and as he was
accustomed when need arose to control himself, he said:

“We must see--some means must be found--” and then without any greeting
to his host, he slowly returned to his own house. But he had not reached
the door, when he heard hoofs on the road, and Petrus called after him,
“Grant us a few minutes longer, for here comes Polykarp, and he can
justify himself to you in his own person.”

The centurion paused, the senator signed to old Jethro to open the gate;
a man was heard to spring from his saddle, but it was an Amalekite--and
not Polykarp--who came into the court.

“What news do you bring?” asked the senator, turning half to the
messenger and half to the centurion. “My lord Polykarp, your son,”
 replied the Amalekite--a dark brown man of ripe years with supple limbs,
and a sharp tongue--“sends his greetings to you and to the mistress, and
would have you to know that before mid-day he will arrive at home with
eight workmen, whom he has engaged in Raithu. Dame Dorothea must be good
enough to make ready for them all and to prepare a meal.”

“When did you part from my son?” inquired Petrus.

“Two hours before sundown.”

Petrus heaved a sigh of relief, for he had not till now been perfectly
convinced of his son’s innocence; but, far from triumphing or making
Phoebicius feel the injustice he had done him, he said kindly--for he
felt some sympathy with the Gaul in his misfortune:

“I wish the messenger could also give some news of your wife’s retreat;
she found it hard to accommodate herself to the dull life here in the
oasis, perhaps she has only disappeared in order to seek a town which
may offer more variety to such a beautiful young creature than this
quiet spot in the desert.”

Phoebicius waved his hand with a negative movement, implying that he
knew better, and said, “I will show you what your nice night-bird left
in my nest. It may be that you can tell me to whom it belongs.”

Just as he hastily stepped across the court-yard to his own dwelling
Paulus entered by the now open gate; he greeted the senator and his
family, and offered Petrus the key of the church.

The sun meanwhile had risen, and the Alexandrian blushed to show himself
in Dame Dorothea’s presence in his short and ragged under-garment, which
was quite inefficient to cover the still athletic mould of his limbs.
Petrus had heard nothing but good of Paulus, and yet he measured him
now with no friendly eye, for all that wore the aspect of extravagance
repelled his temperate and methodical nature. Paulus was made conscious
of what was passing in the senator’s mind when, without vouchsafing
a single word, he took the key from his hand. It was not a matter of
indifference to him, that this man should think ill of him, and he said,
with some embarrassment:

“We do not usually go among people without a sheepskin, but I have lost
mine.”

Hardly had he uttered the words, when Phoebicius came back with Hermas’
sheepskin in his hand, and cried out to Petrus:

“This I found on my return home, in our sleeping-room.”

“And when have you ever seen Polykarp in such a mantle?” asked Dorothea.

“When the gods visit the daughters of men,” replied the centurion, “they
have always made choice of strange disguises. Why should not a perfumed
Alexandrian gentleman transform himself for once into one of those rough
fools on the mountain? However, even old Homer sometimes nodded--and I
confess that I was in error with regard to your son. I meant no offence,
senator! You have lived here longer than I; who can have made me a
present of this skin, which still seems to be pretty new--horns and
all.”

Petrus examined and felt the skin, “This is an anchorite’s garment,” he
said; “the penitents on the mountain are all accustomed to wear such.”

“It is one of those rascals then that has found his way into my house!”
 exclaimed the centurion. “I bear Caesar’s commission, and I am to
exterminate ill vagabonds that trouble the dwellers in the oasis, or
travellers in the desert. Thus run the orders which I brought with me
from Rome. I will drive the low fellows together like deer for hunting,
for they are all rogues and villains, and I shall know how to torture
them until I find the right one.”

“The emperor will ill-requite you for that,” replied Petrus. “They are
pious Christians, and you know that Constantine himself--”

“Constantine!” exclaimed the centurion scornfully. “Perhaps he will let
himself be baptized, for water can hurt no one, and he cannot, like the
great Diocletian, exterminate the masses who run after the crucified
miracle-monger, without depopulating the country. Look at these coins;
here is the image of Caesar, and what is this on the other side? Is this
your Nazarene, or is it the old god, the immortal and invincible sun?
And is that man one of your creed, who in Constantinople adores Tyche
and the Dioscuri Castor and Pollux? The water he is baptized with to-day
he will wipe away to-morrow, and the old gods will be his defenders, if
in more peaceful times he maintains them against your superstitions.”

“But it will be a good while till then,” said Perrus coolly. “For the
present, at least, Constantine is the protector of the Christians. I
advise you to put your affair into the hands of Bishop Agapitus.”

“That he may serve me up a dish of your doctrine, which is bad even for
women,” said the centurion laughing; “and that I may kiss my enemies’
feet? They are a vile rabble up there, I repeat it, and they shall be
treated as such till I have found my man. I shall begin the hunt this
very day.”

“And this very day you may end it, for the sheepskin is mine.”

It was Paulus who spoke these words in a loud and decided tone; all eyes
were at once turned on him and on the centurion.

Petrus and the slaves had frequently seen the anchorite, but never
without a sheepskin similar to that which Phoebicius held in his hand.
The anchorite’s self-accusation must have appeared incredible, and
indeed scarcely possible, to all who knew Paulus and Sirona; and
nevertheless no one, not even the senator, doubted it for an instant.
Dame Dorothea only shook her head incredulously, and though she could
find no explanation for the occurrence, she still could not but say to
herself, that this man did not look like a lover, and that Sirona would
hardly have forgotten her duty for his sake. She could not indeed bring
herself to believe in Sirona’s guilt at all, for she was heartily well
disposed towards her; besides--though it, no doubt, was not right--her
motherly vanity inclined her to believe that if the handsome young
woman had indeed sinned, she would have preferred her fine tall
Polykarp--whose roses and flaming glances she blamed in all
sincerity--to this shaggy, wild-looking graybeard.

Quite otherwise thought the centurion. He was quite ready to believe
in the anchorite’s confession, for the more unworthy the man for whom
Sirona had broken faith, the greater seemed her guilt, and the more
unpardonable her levity; and to his man’s vanity it seemed to him
easier--particularly in the presence of such witnesses as Petrus and
Dorothea--to bear the fact that his wife should have sought variety
and pleasure at any cost, even at that of devoting herself to a ragged
beggar, than that she should have given her affections to a younger,
handsomer, and worthier man than himself. He had sinned much against
her, but all that lay like feathers on his side of the scales, while
that which she had done weighed down hers like a load of lead. He began
to feel like a man who, in wading through a bog, has gained firm ground
with one foot, and all these feelings gave him energy to walk up to the
anchorite with a self-control, of which he was not generally master,
excepting when on duty at the head of his soldiers.

He approached the Alexandrian with an assumption of dignity and a
demeanor which testified to his formerly having taken part in the
representations of tragedies in the theatres of great cities. Paulus,
on his part, did not retreat by a single step, but looked at him with
a smile that alarmed Petrus and the rest of the bystanders. The law put
the anchorite absolutely into the power of the outraged husband, but
Phoebicius did not seem disposed to avail himself of his rights, and
nothing but contempt and loathing were perceptible in his tone, as he
said:

“A man who takes hold of a mangy dog in order to punish him, only
dirties his hand. The woman who betrayed me for your sake, and you--you
dirty beggar--are worthy of each other. I could crush you like a fly
that can be destroyed by a blow of my hand if I chose, but my sword
is Caesar’s, and shall never be soiled by such foul blood as yours;
however, the beast shall not have cast off his skin for nothing, it is
thick, and so you have only spared me the trouble of tearing it off you
before giving you your due. You shall find no lack of blows. Confess
where your sweetheart has fled to and they shall be few, but if you are
slow to answer they will be many. Lend me that thing there, fellow!”

With these words he took a whip of hippopotamus hide out of a
camel-driver’s band, went close up to the Alexandrian, and asked: “Where
is Sirona?”

“Nay, you may beat me,” said Paulus. “However hard your whip may fall on
me, it cannot be heavy enough for my sins; but as to where your wife is
hiding, that I really cannot tell you--not even if you were to tear my
limbs with pincers instead of stroking me with that wretched thing.”

There was something so genuinely honest in Paulus’ voice and tone, that
the centurion was inclined to believe him; but it was not his way to
let a threatened punishment fail of execution, and this strange beggar
should learn by experience that when his hand intended to hit hard, it
was far from “stroking.” And Paulus did experience it, without uttering
a cry, and without stirring from the spot where he stood.

When at last Phoebicius dropped his weary arm and breathlessly repeated
his question, the ill-used man replied, “I told you before I do not
know, and therefore I cannot reveal it.”

Up to this moment Petrus, though he had felt strongly impelled to rush
to the rescue of his severely handled fellow-believer, had nevertheless
allowed the injured husband to have his way, for he seemed disposed
to act with unusual mildness, and the Alexandrian to be worthy of all
punishment; but at this point Dorothea’s request would not have been
needed to prompt him to interfere.

He went up to the centurion, and said to him in an undertone, “You have
given the evil-doer his due, and if you desire that he should undergo
a severer punishment than you can inflict, carry the matter--I say once
more--before the bishop. You will gain nothing more here. Take my word
for it, I know the man and his fellow-men; he actually knows nothing
of where your wife is hiding, and you are only wasting the time and
strength which you would do better to save, in order to search for
Sirona. I fancy she will have tried to reach the sea, and to get to
Egypt or possibly to Alexandria; and there--you know what the Greek city
is--she will fall into utter ruin.”

“And so,” laughed the Gaul, “find what she seeks--variety, and every
kind of pleasure. For a young thing like that, who loves amusement,
there is no pleasant occupation but vice. But I will spoil her game; you
are right, it is not well to give her too long a start. If she has found
the road to the sea, she may already--Hey, here Talib!” He beckoned to
Polykarp’s Amalekite messenger. “You have just come from Raithu; did you
meet a flying woman on the way, with yellow hair and a white face?”

The Amalekite, a free man with sharp eyes, who was highly esteemed in
the senator’s house, and even by Phoebicius himself, as a trustworthy
and steady man, had expected this question, and eagerly replied:

“At two stadia beyond el Heswe I met a large caravan from Petra, which
rested yesterday in the oasis here; a woman, such as you describe, was
running with it. When I heard what had happened here I wanted to speak,
but who listens to a cricket while it thunders?”

“Had she a lame greyhound with her?” asked Phoebicius, full of
expectation.

“She carried something in her arms,” answered the Amalekite. “In the
moonlight I took it for a baby. My brother, who was escorting the
caravan, told me the lady was no doubt running away, for she had
paid the charge for the escort not in ready money, but with a gold
signet-ring.”

The Gaul remembered a certain gold ring with a finely carved onyx, which
long years ago he had taken from Glycera’s finger, for she had another
one like it, and which he had given to Sirona on the day of their
marriage.

“It is strange!” thought he, “what we give to women to bind them to us
they use as weapons to turn against us, be it to please some other
man, or to smooth the path by which they escape from us. It was with a
bracelet of Glycera’s that I paid the captain of the ship that brought
us to Alexandria; but the soft-hearted fool, whose dove flew after me,
and I are men of a different stamp; I will follow my flown bird, and
catch it again.” He spoke the last words aloud, and then desired one of
the senator’s slaves to give his mule a good feed and drink, for his own
groom, and the superior decurion who during his absence must take his
place, were also worshippers of Mithras, and had not yet returned from
the mountain.

Phoebicius did not doubt that the woman who had joined the
caravan--which he himself had seen yesterday--was his fugitive wife, and
he knew that his delay might have reduced his earnest wish to overtake
her and punish her to the remotest probability; but he was a Roman
soldier, and would rather have laid violent hands on himself than have
left his post without a deputy. When at last his fellow-worshippers came
from their sacrifice and worship of the rising sun, his preparations for
his long journey were completed.

Phoebicius carefully impressed on the decurion all he had to do during
his absence, and how he was to conduct himself; then he delivered the
key of his house into Petrus’ keeping as well as the black slave-woman,
who wept loudly and passionately over the flight of her mistress; he
requested the senator to bring the anchorite’s misdeed to the knowledge
of the bishop, and then, guided by the Amalekite Talib, who rode before
him on his dromedary, he trotted hastily away in pursuit of the caravan,
so as to reach the sea, if possible, before its embarkation.

As the hoofs of the mule sounded fainter and fainter in the distance,
Paulus also quitted the senator’s courtyard; Dorothea pointed after him
as he walked towards the mountain. “In truth, husband,” said she, “this
has been a strange morning; everything that has occurred looks as clear
as day, and yet I cannot understand it all. My heart aches when I think
what may happen to the wretched Sirona if her enraged husband overtakes
her. It seems to me that there are two sorts of marriage; one was
instituted by the most loving of the angels, nay, by the All-merciful
Himself, but the other it is not to be thought of! How can those two
live together for the future? And that under our roof! Their closed
house looks to me as though ruined and burnt-out, and we have already
seen the nettles spring up which grow everywhere among the ruins of
human dwellings.”



CHAPTER XII.

The path of every star is fixed and limited, every plant bears flowers
and fruit which in form and color exactly resemble their kind, and in
all the fundamental characteristics of their qualities and dispositions,
of their instinctive bent and external impulse, all animals of the same
species resemble each other; thus, the hunter who knows the red-deer in
his father’s forest, may know in every forest on earth how the stag will
behave in any given case. The better a genus is fitted for variability
in the conformation of its individuals, the higher is the rank it
is entitled to hold in the graduated series of creatures capable of
development; and it is precisely that wonderful many-sidedness of his
inner life, and of its outward manifestation, which assigns to man his
superiority over all other animated beings.

Some few of our qualities and activities can be fitly symbolized in
allegorical fashion by animals; thus, courage finds an emblem in the
lion, gentleness in the dove, but the perfect human form has satisfied
a thousand generations, and will satisfy a thousand more, when we desire
to reduce the divinity to a sensible image, for, in truth, our heart
is as surely capable of comprehending “God in us,”--that is in our
feelings--as our intellect is capable of comprehending His outward
manifestation in the universe.

Every characteristic of every finite being is to be found again in man,
and no characteristic that we can attribute to the Most High is foreign
to our own soul, which, in like manner, is infinite and immeasurable,
for it can extend its investigating feelers to the very utmost boundary
of space and time. Hence, the roads which are open to the soul, are
numberless as those of the divinity. Often they seem strange, but the
initiated very well know that these roads are in accordance to fixed
laws, and that even the most exceptional emotions of the soul may be
traced back to causes which were capable of giving rise to them and to
no others.

Blows hurt, disgrace is a burden, and unjust punishment embitters the
heart, but Paulus’ soul had sought and found a way to which these simple
propositions did not apply.

He had been ill-used and contemned, and, though perfectly innocent, ere
he left the oasis he was condemned to the severest penance. As soon as
the bishop had heard from Petrus of all that had happened in his
house, he had sent for Paulus, and as he could answer nothing to the
accusation, he had expelled him from his flock--to which the anchorites
belonged--forbidden him to visit the church on week-days, and declared
that this his sentence should be publicly proclaimed before the
assembled congregation of the believers.

And how did this affect Paulus as he climbed the mountain, lonely and
proscribed?

A fisherman from the little seaport of Pharan, who met him half-way and
exchanged a greeting with him, thought to himself as he looked after
him, “The great graybeard looks as happy as if he had found a treasure.”
 Then he walked on into the valley with his scaly wares, reminded, as he
went, of his son’s expression of face when his wife bore him his first
little one.

Near the watch-tower at the edge of the defile, a party of anchorites
were piling some stones together. They had already heard of the bishop’s
sentence on Paulus, the sinner, and they gave him no greeting. He
observed it and was silent, but when they could no longer see him
he laughed to himself and muttered, while he rubbed a weal that the
centurion’s whip had left upon his back, “If they think that a Gaul’s
cudgel has a pleasant flavor they are mistaken, however I would not
exchange it for a skin of Anthyllan wine; and if they could only know
that at least one of the stripes which torments me is due to each one of
themselves, they would be surprised! But away with pride! How they spat
on Thee, Jesus my Lord, and who am I, and how mildly have they dealt
with me, when I for once have taken on my back another’s stripes. Not a
drop of blood was drawn! I wish the old man had hit harder!”

He walked cheerfully forward, and his mind recurred to the centurion’s
speech that he could if he list, “tread him down like a worm,” and he
laughed again softly, for he was quite aware that he was ten times
as strong as Phoebicius, and formerly he had overthrown the braggart
Arkesilaos of Kyrene and his cousin, the tall Xenophanes, both at once
in the sand of the Palaestra. Then he thought of Hermas, of his sweet
dead mother, and of his father, and--which was the most comforting
thought of all--of how he had spared the old man this bitter sorrow.

On his path there grew a little plant with a reddish blossom. In years
he had never looked at a flower or, at any rate, had never wished to
possess one; to-day he stooped down over the blossom that graced the
rock, meaning to pluck it. But he did not carry out his intention, for
before he had laid his hand upon it, he reflected:

“To whom could I offer it? And perhaps the flowers themselves rejoice in
the light, and in the silent life that is in their roots. How tightly it
clings to the rock. Farther away from the road flowers of even greater
beauty blow, seen by no mortal eye; they deck themselves in beauty for
no one but for their Creator, and because they rejoice in themselves. I
too will withdraw from the highways of mankind; let them accuse me! So
long as I live at peace with myself and my God I ask nothing of any one.
He that abases himself--aye, he that abases himself!--My hour too shall
come, and above and beyond this life I shall see them all once more;
Petrus and Dorothea, Agapitus and the brethren who now refuse to receive
me, and then, when my Saviour himself beckons me to Him, they will see
me as I am, and hasten to me and greet me with double kindness.”

He looked up, proud and rejoicing as he thought thus, and painted to
himself the joys of Paradise, to which this day he had earned an assured
claim. He never took longer and swifter steps than when his mind was
occupied with such meditations, and when he reached Stephanus’ cave
he thought the way from the oasis to the heights had been shorter than
usual.

He found the sick man in great anxiety, for he had waited until now for
his son in vain, and feared that Hermas had met with some accident--or
had abandoned him, and fled out into the world. Paulus soothed him with
gentle words, and told him of the errand on which he had sent the lad to
the farther coast of the sea.

We are never better disposed to be satisfied with even bad news than
when we have expected it to be much worse; so Stephanus listened to his
friend’s explanation quite calmly, and with signs of approval. He could
no longer conceal from himself that Hermas was not ripe for the life of
an anchorite, and since he had learned that his unhappy wife--whom he
had so long given up for lost--had died a Christian, he found that he
could reconcile his thoughts to relinquishing the boy to the world.
He had devoted himself and his son to a life of penance, hoping and
striving that so Glycera’s soul might be snatched from damnation, and
now he knew that she herself had earned her title to Heaven.

“When will he come home again?” he asked Paulus.

“In five or six days,” was the answer. “Ali, the fisherman--out of whose
foot I took a thorn some time since--informed me secretly, as I was
going to church yesterday, that the Blemmyes are gathering behind the
sulphur-mountains; when they have withdrawn, it will be high time to
send Hermas to Alexandria. My brother is still alive, and for my sake he
will receive him as a blood-relation, for he too has been baptized.”

“He may attend the school of catechumens in the metropolis, and if
he--if he--”

“That we shall see,” interrupted Paulus. “For the present it comes to
this, we must let him go from hence, and leave him to seek out his own
way. You fancy that there may be in heaven a place of glory for such
as have never been overcome, and you would fain have seen Hermas among
them. It reminds me of the physician of Corinth, who boasted that he was
cleverer than any of his colleagues, for that not one of his patients
had ever died. And the man was right, for neither man nor beast had ever
trusted to his healing arts. Let Hermas try his young strength, and even
if he be no priest, but a valiant warrior like his forefathers, even so
he may honestly serve God. But it will be a long time before all this
comes to pass. So long as he is away I will attend on you--you still
have some water in your jar?”

“It has twice been filled for me,” said the old man. “The brown
shepherdess, who so often waters her goats at our spring, came to me
the first thing in the morning and again about two hours ago; she asked
after Hermas, and then offered of her own accord to fetch water for me
so long as he was away. She is as timid as a bird, and flew off as soon
as she had set down the jug.”

“She belongs to Petrus and cannot leave her goats for long,” said
Paulus. “Now I will go and find you some herbs for a relish; there will
be no more wine in the first place. Look me in the face--for how great
a sinner now do you take me? Think the very worst of me, and yet perhaps
you will hear worse said of me. But here come two men. Stay! one is
Hilarion, one of the bishop’s acolytes, and the other is Pachomius the
Memphite, who lately came to the mountain. They are coming up here, and
the Egyptian is carrying a small jar. I would it might hold some more
wine to keep up your strength.”

The two friends had not long to remain in ignorance of their visitor’s
purpose. So soon as they reached Stephanus’ cave, both turned their
backs on Paulus with conspicuously marked intention; nay the acolyte
signed his brow with the cross, as if he thought it necessary to protect
himself against evil influences.

The Alexandrian understood; he drew back and was silent, while Hilarion
explained to the sick man that Paulus was guilty of grave sins, and
that, until he had done full penance, he must remain excluded as a
rotten sheep from the bishop’s flock, as well as interdicted from
waiting on a pious Christian.

“We know from Petrus,” the speaker went on, “that your son, father, has
been sent across the sea, and as you still need waiting on, Agapitus
sends you by me his blessing and this strengthening wine; this youth
too will stay by you, and provide you with all necessaries until Hermas
comes home.”

With these words he gave the wine-jar to the old man, who looked in
astonishment from him to Paulus, who felt indeed cut to the heart when
the bishop’s messenger turned to him for an instant, and with the cry,
“Get thee out from among us!” disappeared. How many kindly ties, how
many services willingly rendered and affectionately accepted were swept
away by these words--but Paulus obeyed at once. He went up to his sick
friend, their eyes met and each could see that the eyes of the other
were dimmed with tears.

“Paulus!” cried the old man, stretching out both his hands to his
departing friend, whom he felt he could forgive whatever his guilt; but
the Alexandrian did not take them, but turned away, and, without looking
back, hastily went up the mountain to a pathless spot, and then on
towards the valley--onwards and still onwards, till he was brought to a
pause by the steep declivity of the hollow way which led southwards from
the mountains into the oasis.

The sun stood high and it was burning hot. Streaming with sweat and
panting for breath he leaned against the glowing porphyry wall behind
him, hid his face in his hands and strove to collect himself, to think,
to pray--for a long time in vain; for instead of joy in the suffering
which he had taken upon himself, the grief of isolation weighed upon his
heart, and the lamentable cry of the old man had left a warning echo
in his soul, and roused doubts of the righteousness of a deed, by which
even the best and purest had been deceived, and led into injustice
towards him. His heart was breaking with anguish and grief, but when
at last he returned to the consciousness of his sufferings physical and
mental, he began to recover his courage, and even smiled as he murmured
to himself:

“It is well, it is well--the more I suffer the more surely shall I find
grace. And besides, if the old man had seen Hermas go through what I
have experienced it would undoubtedly have killed him. Certainly I wish
it could have been done without--without--aye, it is even so--without
deceit; even when I was a heathen I was truthful and held a lie, whether
in myself or in another, in as deep horror as father Abraham held
murder, and yet when the Lord required him, he led his son Isaac to the
slaughter. And Moses when he beat the overseer--and Elias, and Deborah,
and Judith. I have taken upon myself no less than they, but my lie will
surely be forgiven me, if it is not reckoned against them that they shed
blood.”

These and such reflections restored Paulus to equanimity and to
satisfaction with his conduct, and he began to consider, whether he
should return to his old cave and the neighborhood of Stephanus, or seek
for a new abode. He decided on the latter course; but first he must find
fresh water and some sort of nourishment; for his mouth and tongue were
quite parched.

Lower down in the valley sprang a brooklet of which he knew, and hard
by it grew various herbs and roots, with which he had often allayed his
hunger. He followed the declivity to its base, then turning to the left,
he crossed a small table land, which was easily accessible from the
gorge, but which on the side of the oasis formed a perpendicular cliff
many fathoms deep. Between it and the main mass of the mountain rose
numerous single peaks, like a camp of granite tents, or a wildly tossing
sea suddenly turned to stone; behind these blocks ran the streamlet,
which he found after a short search.

Perfectly refreshed, and with renewed resolve to bear the worst with
patience, he returned to the plateau, and from the edge of the precipice
he gazed down into the desert gorge that stretched away far below
his feet, and in whose deepest and remotest hollow the palmgroves and
tamarisk-thickets of the oasis showed as a sharply defined mass of
green, like a luxuriant wreath flung upon a bier. The whitewashed roofs
of the little town of Pharan shone brightly among the branches and
clumps of verdure, and above them all rose the new church, which he was
now forbidden to enter. For a moment the thought was keenly painful that
he was excluded from the devotions of the community, from the Lord’s
supper and from congregational prayer, but then he asked, was not every
block of stone on the mountain an altar--was not the blue sky above a
thousand times wider, and more splendid than the mightiest dome raised
by the hand of man, not even excepting the vaulted roof of the Serapeum
at Alexandria, and he remembered the “Amen” of the stones, that had
rung out after the preaching of the blind man. By this time he had quite
recovered himself, and he went towards the cliff in order to find
a cavern that he knew of, and that was empty--for its gray-headed
inhabitant had died some weeks since. “Verily,” thought he, “it seems to
me that I am by no means weighed down by the burden of my disgrace, but,
on the contrary, lifted up. Here at least I need not cast down my eyes,
for I am alone with my God, and in his presence I feel I need not be
ashamed.”

Thus meditating, he pressed on through a narrow space, which divided two
huge masses of porphyry, but suddenly he stood still, for he heard the
barking of a dog in his immediate neighborhood, and a few minutes after
a greyhound rushed towards him--now indignantly flying at him, and
now timidly retreating--while it carefully held up one leg, which was
wrapped in a many-colored bandage.

Paulus recollected the enquiry which Phoebicius lead addressed to the
Amalekite as to a greyhound, and he immediately guessed that the Gaul’s
runaway wife must be not far off. His heart beat more quickly, and
although he did not immediately know how he should meet the disloyal
wife, he felt himself impelled to go to seek her. Without delay he
followed the way by which the dog had come, and soon caught sight of a
light garment, which vanished behind the nearest rock, and then behind a
farther, and yet a farther one.

At last he came up with the fleeing woman. She was standing at the very
edge of a precipice, that rose high and sheer above the abyss--a strange
and fearful sight; her long golden hair had got tangled, and waved over
her bosom and shoulders, half plaited, half undone. Only one foot was
firm on the ground; the other-with its thin sandal all torn by the sharp
stones--was stretched out over the abyss, ready for the next fatal step.
At the next instant she might disappear over the cliff, for though with
her right hand she held on to a point of rock, Paulus could see that the
boulder had no connection with the rock on which she stood, and rocked
too and fro.

She hung over the edge of the chasm like a sleepwalker, or a possessed
creature pursued by demons, and at the same time her eyes glistened with
such wild madness, and she drew her breath with such feverish rapidity
that Paulus, who had come close up to her, involuntarily drew back. He
saw that her lips moved, and though he could not understand what she
said, he felt that her voiceless utterance was to warn him back.

What should he do? If he hurried forward to save her by a hasty grip,
and if this manoeuvre failed, she would fling herself irredeemably into
the abyss: if he left her to herself, the stone to which she clung would
get looser and looser, and as soon as it fell she would certainly
fall too. He had once heard it said, that sleep-walkers always threw
themselves down when they heard their names spoken; this statement now
recurred to his mind, and he forbore from calling out to her.

Once more the unhappy woman waved him off; his very heart stopped
beating, for her movements were wild and vehement, and he could see that
the stone which she was holding on by shifted its place. He understood
nothing of all the words which she tried to say--for her voice, which
only yesterday had been so sweet, to-day was inaudibly hoarse--except
the one name “Phoebicius,” and he felt no doubt that she clung to the
stone over the abyss, so that, like the mountain-goat when it sees
itself surprised by the hunter, she might fling herself into the depth
below rather than be taken by her pursuer. Paulus saw in her neither her
guilt nor her beauty, but only a child of man trembling on the brink
of a fearful danger whom he must save from death at any cost; and the
thought that he was at any rate not a spy sent in pursuit of her by
her husband, suggested to him the first words which he found courage to
address to the desperate woman. They were simple words enough, but they
were spoken in a tone which fully expressed the childlike amiability of
his warm heart, and the Alexandrian, who had been brought up in the most
approved school of the city of orators, involuntarily uttered his words
in the admirably rich and soft chest voice, which he so well knew how to
use.

“Be thankful,” said he, “poor dear woman--I have found you in a
fortunate hour. I am Paulus, Hermas’ best friend, and I would willingly
serve you in your sore need. No danger is now threatening you, for
Phoebicius is seeking you on a wrong road; you may trust me. Look at
me! I do not look as if I could betray a poor erring woman. But you are
standing on a spot, where I would rather see my enemy than you; lay your
hand confidently in mine--it is no longer white and slender, but it is
strong and honest--grant me this request and you will never rue it! See,
place your foot here, and take care how you leave go of the rock there.
You know not how suspiciously it shook its head over your strange
confidence in it. Take care! there--your support has rolled over into
the abyss! how it crashes and splits. It has reached the bottom, smashed
into a thousand pieces, and I am thankful that you preferred to follow
me rather than that false support.” While Paulus was speaking he had
gone up to Sirona, as a girl whose bird has escaped from its cage, and
who creeps up to it with timid care in the hope of recapturing it; he
offered her his hand, and as soon as he felt hers in his grasp, he had
carefully rescued her from her fearful position, and had led her down
to a secure footing on the plateau. So long as she followed him
unresistingly he led her on towards the mountain--without aim or fixed
destination--but away, away from the abyss.

She paused by a square block of diorite, and Paulus, who had not failed
to observe how heavy her steps were, desired her to sit down; he pushed
up a flag of stone, which he propped with smaller ones, so that Sirona
might not lack a support for her weary back. When he had accomplished
this, Sirona leaned back against the stone, and something of dawning
satisfaction was audible in the soft sigh, which was the first sound
that had escaped her tightly closed lips since her rescue. Paulus smiled
at her encouragingly, and said, “Now rest a little, I see what you want;
one cannot defy the heat of the sun for a whole day with impunity.”

Sirona nodded, pointed to her mouth, and implored wearily and very
softly for “water, a little water.” Paulus struck his hand against
his forehead, and cried eagerly, “Directly--I will bring you a fresh
draught. In a few minutes I will be back again.”

Sirona looked after him as he hastened away. Her gaze became more and
more staring and glazed, and she felt as if the rock, on which she was
sitting, were changing into the ship which had brought her from Massilia
to Ostia. Every heaving motion of the vessel, which had made her so
giddy as it danced over the shifting waves, she now distinctly felt
again, and at last it seemed as if a whirlpool had seized the ship,
and was whirling it round faster and faster in a circle. She closed her
eyes, felt vaguely and in vain in the air for some holdfast, her head
fell powerless on one side, and before her cheek sank upon her shoulder
she uttered one feeble cry of distress, for she felt as if all her limbs
were dropping from her body, as leaves in autumn fall from the boughs,
and she fell back unconscious on the stony couch which Paulus had
constructed for her.

It was the first swoon that Sirona, with her sound physical and mental
powers, had ever experienced; but the strongest of her sex would have
been overcome by the excitement, the efforts, the privations, and the
sufferings which had that day befallen the unfortunate fair one.

At first she had fled without any plan out into the night and up the
mountain; the moon lighted her on her way, and for fully an hour she
continued her upward road without any rest. Then she heard the voices of
travellers who were coming towards her, and she left the beaten road and
tried to get away from them, for she feared that her greyhound, which
she still carried’ on her arm, would betray her by barking, or if they
heard it whining, and saw it limp. At last she had sunk down on a stone,
and had reflected on all the events of the last few hours, and on what
she had to do next. She could look back dreamily on the past, and build
castles in the air in a blue-skyed future-this was easy enough; but she
did not find it easy to reflect with due deliberation, and to think in
earnest. Only one thing was perfectly clear to her: she would rather
starve and die of thirst, and shame, and misery-nay, she would rather
be the instrument of her own death, than return to her husband. She
knew that she must in the first instance expect ill-usage, scorn, and
imprisonment in a dark room at the Gaul’s hands; but all that seemed to
her far more endurable than the tenderness with which he from time
to time approached her. When she thought of that, she shuddered and
clenched her white teeth, and doubled her fists so tightly that her
nails cut the flesh. But what was she to do? If Hermas were to meet her?
And yet what help could she look for from him, for what was he but a
mere lad, and the thought of linking her life to his, if only for a day,
appeared to her foolish and ridiculous.

Certainly she felt no inclination to repent or to blame herself; still
it had been a great folly on her part to call him into the house for the
sake of amusing herself with him.

Then she recollected the severe punishment she had once suffered,
because, when she was still quite little, and without meaning any harm,
she had taken her father’s water-clock to pieces, and had spoiled it.

She felt that she was very superior to Hermas, and her position was now
too grave a one for her to feel inclined to play any more. She thought
indeed of Petrus and Dorothea, but she could only reach them by going
back to the oasis, and then she feared to be discovered by Phoebicius.

If Polykarp now could only meet her on his way back from Raithu; but the
road she had just quitted did not lead from thence, but to the gate-way
that lay more to the southwards.

The senator’s son loved her--of that she was sure, for no one else
had ever looked into her eyes with such deep delight, or such tender
affection; and he was no inexperienced boy, but a right earnest man,
whose busy and useful life now appeared to her in a quite different
light to that in which she had seen it formerly. How willingly now would
she have allowed herself to be supported and guided by Polykarp! But how
could she reach him? No--even from him there was nothing to be expected;
she must rely upon her own strength, and she decided that so soon as the
morning should blush, and the sun begin to mount in the cloudless sky,
she would keep herself concealed during the day, among the mountains,
and then as evening came on, she would go down to the sea, and endeavor
to get on board a vessel to Klysma and thence reach Alexandria. She wore
a ring with a finely cut onyx on her finger, elegant ear-rings in her
ears, and on her left arm a bracelet. These jewels were of virgin gold,
and besides these she had with her a few silver coins and one large gold
piece, that her father had given her as token out of his small store,
when she had quitted him for Rome, and that she had hitherto preserved
as carefully as if it were a talisman.

She pressed the token, which was sewn into a little bag, to her lips,
and thought of her paternal home, and her brothers and sisters.

Meanwhile the sun mounted higher and higher: she wandered from rock to
rock in search of a shady spot and a spring of water, but none was to be
found, and she was tormented with violent thirst and aching hunger.
By mid-day the strips of shade too had vanished, where she had found
shelter from the rays of the sun, which now beat down unmercifully on
her un protected head. Her forehead and neck began to tingle violently,
and she fled before the burning beams like a soldier before the shafts
of his pursuer. Behind the rocks which hemmed in the plateau on which
Paulus met her, at last, when she was quite exhausted, she found a shady
resting-place. The greyhound lay panting in her lap, and held up its
broken paw, which she had carefully bound up in the morning when she had
first sat down to rest, with a strip of stuff that she had torn with the
help of her teeth from her under-garment. She now bound it up afresh,
and nursed the little creature, caressing it like an infant. The dog was
as wretched and suffering as herself, and besides it was the only being
that, in spite of her helplessness, she could cherish and be dear to.
But ere long she lost the power even to speak caressing words or to stir
a hand to stroke the dog. It slipped off her lap and limped away, while
she sat staring blankly before her, and at last forgot her sufferings
in an uneasy slumber, till she was roused by Iambe’s barking and the
Alexandrian’s footstep. Almost half-dead, her mouth parched and brain
on fire, while her thoughts whirled in confusion, she believed that
Phoebicius had found her track, and was come to seize her. She had
already noted the deep precipice to the edge of which she now fled,
fully resolved to fling herself over into the depths below, rather than
to surrender herself prisoner.

Paulus had rescued her from the fall, but now--as he came up to her with
two pieces of stone which were slightly hollowed, so that he had been
able to bring some fresh water in them, and which he held level with
great difficulty, walking with the greatest care--he thought that
inexorable death had only too soon returned to claim the victim he had
snatched from him, for Sirona’s head hung down upon her breast, her
face was sunk towards her lap, and at the back of her head, where her
abundant hair parted into two flowing tresses, Paulus observed on the
snowy neck of the insensible woman a red spot which the sun must have
burnt there.

His whole soul was full of compassion for the young, fair, and unhappy
creature, and, while he took hold of her chin, which had sunk on her
bosom, lifted her white face, and moistened her forehead and lips with
water, he softly prayed for her salvation.

The shallow cavity of the stones only offered room for a very small
quantity of the refreshing moisture, and so he was obliged to return
several times to the spring. While he was away the dog remained by his
mistress, and would now lick her hand, now put his sharp little nose
close up to her mouth, and examine her with an anxious expression, as if
to ascertain her state of health.

When Paulus had gone the first time to fetch some water for Sirona
he had found the dog by the side of the spring, and he could not help
thinking, “The unreasoning brute has found the water without a guide
while his mistress is dying of thirst. Which is the wiser--the man or
the brute?” The little dog on his part strove to merit the anchorite’s
good feelings towards him, for, though at first he had barked at him,
he now was very friendly to him, and looked him in the face from time to
time as though to ask, “Do you think she will recover?”

Paulus was fond of animals, and understood the little dog’s language.
When Sirona’s lips began to move and to recover their rosy color, he
stroked Iambe’s smooth sharp head, and said, as he held a leaf that he
had curled up to hold some water to Sirona’s lips, “Look, little fellow,
how she begins to enjoy it! A little more of this, and again a little
more. She smacks her lips as if I were giving her sweet Falernian. I
will go and fill the stone again; you stop here with her, I shall be
back again directly, but before I return she will have opened her eyes;
you are pleasanter to look upon than a shaggy old graybeard, and she
will be better pleased to see you than me when she awakes.” Paulus’
prognosis was justified, for when he returned to Sirona with a fresh
supply of water she was sitting upright; she rubbed her open eyes,
stretched her limbs, clasped the greyhound in both arms, and burst into
a violent flood of tears.

The Alexandrian stood aside motionless, so as not to disturb her,
thinking to himself:

“These tears will wash away a large part of her suffering from her
soul.”

When at last she was calmer, and began to dry her eyes, he went up to
her, offered her the stone cup of water, and spoke to her kindly. She
drank with eager satisfaction, and ate the last bit of bread that he
could find in the pocket of his garment, soaking it in the water. She
thanked him with the childlike sweetness that was peculiar to her, and
then tried to rise, and willingly allowed him to support her. She was
still very weary, and her head ached, but she could stand and walk.

As soon as Paulus had satisfied himself that she had no symptoms Of
fever, he said, “Now, for to-day, you want nothing more but a warm mess
of food, and a bed sheltered from the night-chill; I will provide both.
You sit down here; the rocks are already throwing long shadows, and
before the sun disappears behind the mountain I will return. While I am
away, your four-footed companion here will while away the time.”

He hastened down to the spring with quick steps; close to it was the
abandoned cave which he had counted on inhabiting instead of his former
dwelling. He found it after a short search, and in it, to his great joy,
a well preserved bed of dried plants, which he soon shook up and relaid,
a hearth, and wood proper for producing fire by friction, a water-jar,
and in a cellar-like hole, whose opening was covered with stones and so
concealed from any but a practised eye, there were some cakes of hard
bread, and several pots. In one of these were some good dates, in
another gleamed some white meal, a third was half full of sesame-oil,
and a fourth held some salt.

“How lucky it is,” muttered the anchorite, as he quitted the cave, “that
the old anchorite was such a glutton.”

By the time he returned to Sirona, the sun was going down.

There was something in the nature and demeanor of Paulus, which made all
distrust of him impossible, and Sirona was ready to follow him, but she
felt so weak that she could scarcely support herself on her feet.

“I feel,” she said, “as if I were a little child, and must begin again
to learn to walk.”

“Then let me be your nurse. I knew a Spartan dame once, who had a beard
almost as rough as mine. Lean confidently on me, and before we go down
the slope, we will go up and down the level here two or three times.”
 She took his arm, and he led her slowly up and down.

It vividly recalled a picture of the days of his youth, and he
remembered a day when his sister, who was recovering from a severe
attack of fever, was first allowed to go out into the open air. She had
gone out, clinging to his arm into the peristyle of his father’s house;
as he walked backward and forwards with poor, weary, abandoned Sirona,
his neglected figure seemed by degrees to assume the noble aspect of a
high-born Greek; and instead of the rough, rocky soil, he felt as if
he were treading the beautiful mosaic pavement of his father’s court.
Paulus was Menander again, and if there was little in the presence of
the recluse, which could recall his identity with the old man he had
trodden down, the despised anchorite felt, while the expelled and sinful
woman leaned on his arm, the same proud sense of succoring a woman, as
when he was the most distinguished youth of a metropolis, and when he
had led forward the master’s much courted daughter in the midst of a
shouting troop of slaves.

Sirona had to remind Paulus that night was coming on, and was startled,
when the hermit removed her hand from his arm with ungentle haste, and
called to her to follow him with a roughness that was quite new to him.
She obeyed, and wherever it was necessary to climb over the rocks, he
supported and lifted her, but he only spoke when she addressed him.

When they had reached their destination, he showed her the bed, and
begged her to keep awake, till he should have prepared a dish of warm
food for her, and he shortly brought her a simple supper, and wished her
a good night’s rest, after she had taken it.

Sirona shared the bread and the salted meal-porridge with her dog,
and then lay down on the couch, where she sank at once into a deep,
dreamless sleep, while Paulus passed the night sitting by the hearth.

He strove to banish sleep by constant prayer, but fatigue frequently
overcame him, and he could not help thinking of the Gaulish lady, and of
the many things, which if only he were still the rich Menander, he would
procure in Alexandria for her and for her comfort. Not one prayer could
he bring to its due conclusion, for either his eyes closed before he
came to the “Amen,” or else worldly images crowded round him, and
forced him to begin his devotions again from the beginning, when he
had succeeded in recollecting himself. In this half-somnolent state he
obtained not one moment of inward collectedness, of quiet reflection;
not even when he gazed up at the starry heavens, or looked down on the
oasis, veiled in night, where many others like himself were deserted by
sleep. Which of the citizens could it be that was watching by that light
which he saw glimmering down there in unwonted brightness?--till he
himself, overpowered by fatigue, fell asleep.



CHAPTER XIII.

The light in the town, which had attracted Paulus, was in Petrus’
house, and burnt in Polykarp’s room, which formed the whole of a small
upper-story, which the senator had constructed for his son over the
northern portion of the spacious flat roof of the main building. The
young man had arrived about noon with the slaves he had just procured,
had learned all that had happened in his absence, and had silently
withdrawn into his own room after supper was ended. Here he still
lingered over his work.

A bed, a table on and under which lay a multitude of wax-tablets,
papyrus-rolls, metal-points, and writing-reeds, with a small bench, on
which stood a water-jar and basin, composed the furniture of this room;
on its whitewashed walls hung several admirable carvings in relief, and
figures of men and animals stood near them in long rows. In one corner,
near a stone water-jar, lay a large, damp, shining mass of clay.

Three lamps fastened to stands abundantly lighted this work-room, but
chiefly a figure standing on a high trestle, which Polykarp’s fingers
were industriously moulding.

Phoebicius had called the young sculptor a fop, and not altogether
unjustly, for he loved to be well dressed and was choice as to the cut
and color of his simple garments, and he rarely neglected to arrange his
abundant hair with care, and to anoint it well; and yet it was almost
indifferent to him, whether his appearance pleased other people or no,
but he knew nothing nobler than the human form, and an instinct, which
he did not attempt to check, impelled him to keep his own person as nice
as he liked to see that of his neighbor.

Now at this hour of the night, he wore only a shirt of white woollen
stuff, with a deep red border. His locks, usually so well-kept, seemed
to stand out from his head separately, and instead of smoothing and
confining them, he added to their wild disorder, for, as he worked, he
frequently passed his hand through them with a hasty movement. A bat,
attracted by the bright light, flew in at the open window--which was
screened only at the bottom by a dark curtain--and fluttered round the
ceiling; but he did not observe it, for his work absorbed his whole soul
and mind. In this eager and passionate occupation, in which every nerve
and vein in his being seemed to bear a part, no cry for help would have
struck his ear--even a flame breaking out close to him would not have
caught his eye. His cheeks glowed, a fine dew of glistening sweat
covered his brow, and his very gaze seemed to become more and more
firmly riveted to the sculpture as it took form under his hand. Now
and again he stepped back from it, and leaned backwards from his hips,
raising his hands to the level of his temples, as if to narrow the field
of vision; then he went up to the model, and clutched the plastic mass
of clay, as though it were the flesh of his enemy.

He was now at work on the flowing hair of the figure before him, which
had already taken the outline of a female head, and he flung the bits of
clay, which he removed from the back of it, to the ground, as violently
as though he were casting them at an antagonist at his feet. Again his
finger-tips and modelling-tool were busy with the mouth, nose, cheeks,
and eyes, and his own eyes took a softer expression, which gradually
grew to be a gaze of ecstatic delight, as the features he was moulding
began to agree more and more with the image, which at this time excluded
every other from his imagination.

At last, with glowing cheeks, he had finished rounding the soft form of
the shoulders, and drew back once more to contemplate the effect of the
completed work; a cold shiver seized him, and he felt himself impelled
to lift it up, and dash it to the ground with all his force. But he soon
mastered this stormy excitement, he pushed his hand through his hair
again and again, and posted himself, with a melancholy smile and with
folded hands, in front of his creation; sunk deeper and deeper in his
contemplation of it, he did not observe that the door behind him was
opened, although the flame of his lamps flickered in the draught, and
that his mother had entered the work-room, and by no means endeavored
to approach him unheard, or to surprise him. In her anxiety for her
darling, who had gone through so many bitter experiences during the
past day, she had not been able to sleep. Polykarp’s room lay above her
bedroom, and when his steps over head betrayed that, though it was now
near morning, he had not yet gone to rest, she had risen from her
bed without waking Petrus, who seemed to be sleeping. She obeyed her
motherly impulse to encourage Polykarp with some loving words, and
climbing up the narrow stair that led to the roof, she went into his
room. Surprised, irresolute, and speechless she stood for some time
behind the young man, and looked at the strongly illuminated and
beautiful features of the newly-formed bust, which was only too like its
well-known prototype. At last she laid her hand on her son’s shoulder,
and spoke his name. Polykarp stepped back, and looked at his mother
in bewilderment, like a man roused from sleep; but she interrupted the
stammering speech with which he tried to greet her, by saying, gravely
and not without severity, as she pointed to the statue, “What does this
mean?”

“What should it mean, mother?” answered Polykarp in a low tone, and
shaking his head sadly. “Ask me no more at present, for if you gave me
no rest, and even if I tried to explain to you how to-day--this very
day--I have felt impelled and driven to make this woman’s image, still
you could not understand me--no, nor any one else.”

“God forbid that I should ever understand it!” cried Dorothea. “‘Thou
shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife,’ was the commandment of the Lord on
this mountain. And you? You think I could not understand you? Who
should understand you then, if not your mother? This I certainly do not
comprehend, that a son of Petrus and of mine should have thrown all the
teaching and the example of his parents so utterly to the wind. But what
you are aiming at with this statue, it seems to me is not hard to guess.
As the forbidden-fruit hangs too high for you, you degrade your art, and
make to yourself an image that resembles her according to your taste.
Simply and plainly it comes to this; as you can no longer see the Gaul’s
wife in her own person, and yet cannot exist without the sweet presence
of the fair one, you make a portrait of clay to make love to, and you
will carry on idolatry before it, as once the Jews did before the golden
calf and the brazen serpent.”

Polykarp submitted to his mother’s angry blame in silence, but in
painful emotion. Dorothea had never before spoken to him thus, and to
hear such words from the very lips which were used to address him with
such heart-felt tenderness, gave him unspeakable pain. Hitherto she
had always been inclined to make excuses for his weaknesses and little
faults, nay, the zeal with which she had observed and pointed out his
merits and performances before strangers as well as before their own
family, had often seemed to him embarrassing. And now? She had indeed
reason to blame him, for Sirona was the wife of another, she had never
even noticed his admiration, and now, they all said, had committed a
crime for the sake of a stranger. It must seem both a mad and a sinful
thing in the eyes of men that he of all others should sacrifice the best
he had--his Art--and how little could Dorothea, who usually endeavored
to understand him, comprehend the overpowering impulse which had driven
him to his task.

He loved and honored his mother with his whole heart, and feeling that
she was doing herself an injustice by her false and low estimate of
his proceedings, he interrupted her eager discourse, raising his hands
imploringly to her.

“No, mother, no!” he exclaimed. “As truly as God is my helper, it is not
so. It is true that I have moulded this head, but not to keep it, and
commit the sin of worshipping it, but rather to free myself from the
image that stands before my mind’s eye by day and by night, in the city
and in the desert, whose beauty distracts my mind when I think, and my
devotions when I try to pray. To whom is it given to read the soul of
man? And is not Sirona’s form and face the loveliest image of the
Most High? So to represent it, that the whole charm that her presence
exercises over me might also be felt by every beholder, is a task that I
have set myself ever since her arrival in our house. I had to go back
to the capital, and the work I longed to achieve took a clearer form; at
every hour I discovered something to change and to improve in the pose
of the head, the glance of the eye or the expression of the mouth.
But still I lacked courage to put the work in hand, for it seemed too
audacious to attempt to give reality to the glorious image in my soul,
by the aid of gray clay and pale cold marble; to reproduce it so that
the perfect work should delight the eye of sense, no less than the image
enshrined in my breast delights my inward eye. At the same time I was
not idle, I gained the prize for the model of the lions, and if I have
succeeded with the Good Shepherd blessing the flock, which is for the
sarcophagus of Comes, and if the master could praise the expression
of devoted tenderness in the look of the Redeemer, I know--nay, do not
interrupt me, mother, for what I felt was a pure emotion and no sin--I
know that it was because I was myself so full of love, that I was
enabled to inspire the very stone with love. At last I had no peace, and
even without my father’s orders I must have returned home; then I saw
her again, and found her even more lovely than the image which reigned
in my soul. I heard her voice, and her silvery bell-like laughter--and
then--and then--. You know very well what I learned yesterday. The
unworthy wife of an unworthy husband, the woman Sirona, is gone from
me for ever, and I was striving to drive her image from my soul, to
annihilate it and dissipate it--but in vain! and by degrees a wonderful
stress of creative power came upon me. I hastily placed the lamps, took
the clay in my hand, and feature by feature I brought forth with bitter
joy the image that is deeply graven in my heart, believing that thus I
might be released from the spell. There is the fruit which was ripened
in my heart, but there, where it so long has dwelt, I feel a dismal
void, and if the husk which so long tenderly enfolded this image were to
wither and fall asunder, I should not wonder at it.--To that thing there
clings the best part of my life.”

“Enough!” exclaimed Dorothea, interrupting her son who stood before her
in great agitation and with trembling lips. “God forbid that that mask
there should destroy your life and soul. I suffer nothing impure within
my house, and you should not in your heart. That which is evil can never
more be fair, and however lovely the face there may look to you, it
looks quite as repulsive to me when I reflect that it probably smiled
still more fascinatingly on some strolling beggar. If the Gaul brings
her back I will turn her out of my house, and I will destroy her image
with my own hands if you do not break it in pieces on the spot.”

Dorothea’s eyes were swimming in tears as she spoke these words. She
had felt with pride and emotion during her son’s speech how noble and
high-minded he was, and the idea that this rare and precious treasure
should 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.



CHAPTER XIV.

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 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.”



CHAPTER XV.

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,
she looked not less fresh and charming than on that morning when she had
been seen and watched by Hermas. True, her heart was sore, true, she was
perplexed and miserable, but sleep and rest had long since effaced from
her healthy, youthful, and elastic frame all traces left by that fearful
day of flight; and fate, which often means best by us when it shows us a
hostile face, had sent her a minor anxiety to divert her from her graver
cares.

Her greyhound was very ill, and it seemed that in the ill-treatment
it had experienced, not only its leg had been broken, but that it had
suffered some internal injury. The brisk, lively little creature fell
down powerless when ever it tried to stand, and when she took it up to
nurse it comfortably in her lap, it whined pitifully, and looked up at
her sorrowfully, and as if complaining to her. It would take neither
food nor drink; its cool little nose was hot; and when she left the
cave, Iambe lay panting on the fine woollen coverlet which Paulus had
spread upon the bed, unable even to look after her.

Before taking the dog the water she had fetched in the graceful
jar--which was another gift from her hospitable friend--she went up to
Paulus and greeted him kindly. He looked up from his work, thanked her,
and a few minutes later, when she came out of the cave again, asked her,
“How is the poor little creature?”

Sirona shrugged her shoulders, and said sadly, “She has drunk nothing,
and does not even know me, and pants as rapidly as last evening--if I
were to lose the poor little beast!--”

She could say no more for emotion, but Paulus shook his head.

“It is sinful,” he said, “to grieve so for a beast devoid of reason.”

“Iambe is not devoid of reason,” replied Sirona. “And even if she were,
what have I left if she dies? She grew up in my father’s house, where
all loved me; I had her first when she was only a few days old, and I
brought her up on milk on a little bit of sponge. Many a time, when I
heard the little thing whining for food, have I got out of bed at night
with bare feet; and so she came to cling to me like a child, and could
not do without me. No one can know how another feels about such things.
My father used to tell us of a spider that beautified the life of a
prisoner, and what is a dirty dumb creature like that to my clever,
graceful little dog! I have lost my home, and here every one believes
the worst of me, although I have done no one any harm, and no one, no
one loves me but Iambe.”

“But I know of one who loves every one with a divine and equal love,”
 interrupted Paulus.

“I do not care for such a one,” answered Sirona. “Iambe follows no one
but me; what good can a love do me that I must share with all the
world! But you mean the crucified God of the Christians? He is good and
pitiful, so says Dame Dorothea; but he is dead--I cannot see him, nor
hear him, and, certainly, I cannot long for one who only shows me grace.
I want one to whom I can count for something, and to whose life and
happiness I am indispensable.”

A scarcely perceptible shudder thrilled through the Alexandrian as she
spoke these words, and he thought, as he glanced at her face and figure
with a mingled expression of regret and admiration, “Satan, before he
fell, was the fairest among the pure spirits, and he still has power
over this woman. She is still far from being ripe for salvation, and yet
she has a gentle heart, and even if she has erred, she is not lost.”

Sirona’s eyes had met his, and she said with a sigh, “You look at me so
compassionately--if only Iambe were well, and if I succeeded in reaching
Alexandria, my destiny would perhaps take a turn for the better.”

Paulus had risen while she spoke, and had taken the pot from the hearth;
he now offered it to his guest, saying:

“For the present we will trust to this broth to compensate to you for
the delights of the capital; I am glad that you relish it. But tell me
now, have you seriously considered what danger may threaten a beautiful,
young, and unprotected woman in the wicked city of the Greeks? Would it
not be better that you should submit to the consequences of your guilt,
and return to Phoebicius, to whom unfortunately you belong?”

Sirona, at these words, had set down the vessel out of which she was
eating, and rising in passionate haste, she exclaimed:

“That shall never, never be!--And when I was sitting up there half-dead,
and took your step for that of Phoebicius, the gods showed me a way to
escape from him, and from you or anyone who would drag me back to him.
When I fled to the edge of the abyss, I was raving and crazed, but what
I then would have done in my madness, I would do now in cold blood--as
surely as I hope to see my own people in Arelas once more! What was I
once, and to what have I come through Phoebicius! Life was to me a sunny
garden with golden trellises and shady trees and waters as bright as
crystal, with rosy flowers and singing birds; and he, he has darkened
its light, and fouled its springs, and broken down its flowers. All now
seems dumb and colorless, and if the abyss is my grave, no one will miss
me nor mourn for me.”

“Poor woman!” said Paulus. “Your husband then showed you very little
love.”

“Love,” laughed Sirona, “Phoebicius and love! Only yesterday I told you,
how cruelly he used to torture me after his feasts, when he was drunk
or when he recovered from one of his swoons. But one thing he did to me,
one thing which broke the last thread of a tie between us. No one yet
has ever heard a word of it from me; not even Dorothea, who often blamed
me when I let slip a hard word against my husband. It was well for her
to talk--if I had found a husband like Petrus I might perhaps have been
like Dorothea. It is a marvel, which I myself do not understand, that
I did not grow wicked with such a man, a man who--why should I conceal
it--who, when we were at Rome, because he was in debt, and because he
hoped to get promotion through his legate Quintillus, sold me--me--to
him. He himself brought the old man--who had often followed me
about--into his house, but our hostess, a good woman, had overheard the
matter, and betrayed it all to me. It is so base, so vile--it seems to
blacken my soul only to think of it! The legate got little enough in
return for his sesterces, but Phoebicius did not restore his wages of
sin, and his rage against me knew no bounds when he was transferred to
the oasis at the instigation of his betrayed chief. Now you know all,
and never advise me again to return to that man to whom my misfortune
has bound me.

“Only listen how the poor little beast in there is whining. It wants to
come to me, and has not the strength to move.”

Paulus looked after her sympathetically as she disappeared under the
opening in the rock, and he awaited her return with folded arms. He
could not see into the cave, for the space in which the bed stood was
closed at the end by the narrow passage which formed the entrance, and
which joined it at an angle as the handle of a scythe joins the blade.
She remained a long time, and he could hear now and then a tender word
with which she tried to comfort the suffering creature. Suddenly he
was startled by a loud and bitter cry from Sirona; no doubt, the poor
woman’s affectionate little companion was dead, and in the dim twilight
of the cave she had seen its dulled eye, and felt the stiffness of death
overspreading and paralyzing its slender limbs. He dared not go into
the cavern, but he felt his eyes fill with tears, and he would willingly
have spoken some word of consolation to her.

At last she came out, her eyes red with weeping. Paulus had guessed
rightly for she held the body of little Iambe in her arms.

“How sorry I am,” said Paulus, “the poor little creature was so pretty.”

Sirona nodded, sat down, and unfastened the prettily embroidered band
from the dog’s neck, saying half to herself, and half to Paulus, “My
little Agnes worked this collar. I myself had taught her to sew, and
this was the first piece of work that was all her own.” She held the
collar up to the anchorite. “This clasp is of real silver,” she went on,
“and my father himself gave it to me. He was fond of the poor little dog
too. Now it will never leap and spring again, poor thing.”

She looked sadly down at the dead dog. Then she collected herself, and
said hurriedly, “Now I will go away from here. Nothing--nothing keeps
me any longer in this wilderness, for the senator’s house, where I have
spent many happy hours, and where everyone was fond of me, is closed
against me, and must ever be so long as he lives there. If you have not
been kind to me only to do me harm in the end, let me go today, and help
me to reach Alexandria.”

“Not to-day, in any case not to-day,” replied Paulus. “First I must find
out when a vessel sails for Klysma or for Berenike, and then I have many
other things to see to for you. You owe me an answer to my question,
as to what you expect to do and to find in Alexandria. Poor child--the
younger and the fairer you are--”

“I know all you would say to me,” interrupted Sirona. “Wherever I have
been, I have attracted the eyes of men, and when I have read in their
looks that I pleased them, it has greatly pleased me--why should I deny
it? Many a one has spoken fair words to me or given me flowers, and sent
old women to my house to win me for them, but even if one has happened
to please me better than another, still I have never found it hard to
send them home again as was fitting.”

“Till Hermas laid his love at your feet,” said Paulus. “He is a bold
lad--”

“A pretty, inexperienced boy,” said Sirona, “neither more nor less. It
was a heedless thing, no doubt, to admit him to my rooms, but no vestal
need be ashamed to own to such favor as I showed him. I am innocent,
and I will remain so that I may stand in my father’s presence without
a blush when I have earned money enough in the capital for the long
journey.”

Paulus looked in her face astonished and almost horrified.

Then he had in fact taken on himself guilt which did not exist, and
perhaps the senator would have been slower to condemn Sirona, if it had
not been for his falsely acknowledging it. He stood before her, feeling
like a child that would fain put together some object of artistic
workmanship, and who has broken it to pieces for want of skill. At the
same time he could not doubt a word that she said, for the voice within
him had long since plainly told him that this woman was no common
criminal.

For some time he was at a loss for words; at last he said timidly:

“What do you purpose doing in Alexandria?”

“Polykarp says, that all good work finds a purchaser there,” she
answered. “And I can weave particularly well, and embroider with
gold-thread. Perhaps I may find shelter under some roof where there are
children, and I would willingly attend to them during the day. In my
free time and at night I could work at my frame, and when I have scraped
enough together I shall soon find a ship that will carry me to Gaul, to
my own people. Do you not see that I cannot go back to Phoebicius, and
can you help me?”

“Most willingly, and better perhaps than you fancy,” said Paulus. “I
cannot explain this to you just now; but you need not request me, but
may rather feel that you have a good right to demand of me that I should
rescue you.”

She looked at him in surprised enquiry, and he continued:

“First let me carry away the little dog, and bury it down there. I will
put a stone over the grave, that you may know where it lies. It must
be so, the body cannot be here any longer. Take the thing, which lies
there. I had tried before to cut it out for you, for you complained
yesterday that your hair was all in a tangle because you had not a comb,
so I tried to carve you one out of bone. There were none at the shop
in the oasis, and I am myself only a wild creature of the wilderness, a
sorry, foolish animal, and do not use one.

“Was that a stone that fell? Aye, certainly, I hear a man’s step; go
quickly into the cave and do not stir till I call you.”

Sirona withdrew into her rock-dwelling, and Paulus took the body of
the dog in his arms to conceal it from the man who was approaching.
He looked round, undecided, and seeking a hiding-place for it, but two
sharp eyes had already detected him and his small burden from the height
above him; before he had found a suitable place, stones were rolling and
crashing down from the cliff to the right of the cavern, and at the same
time a man came springing down with rash boldness from rock to rock, and
without heeding the warning voice of the anchorite, flung himself down
the slope, straight in front of him, exclaiming, while he struggled for
breath and his face was hot with hatred and excitement:

“That--I know it well-that is Sirona’s greyhound--where is its mistress?
Tell me this instant, where is Sirona--I must and will know.”

Paulus had frequently seen, from the penitent’s room in the church, the
senator and his family in their places near the altar, and he was much
astonished to recognize in the daring leaper, who rushed upon him like
a mad man with dishevelled hair and fiery eyes, Polykarp, Petrus’ second
son.

The anchorite found it difficult to preserve his calm, and composed
demeanor, for since he had been aware that he had accused Sirona falsely
of a heavy sin, while at the same time he had equally falsely confessed
himself the partner of her misdeed, he felt an anxiety that amounted to
anguish, and a leaden oppression checked the rapidity of his thoughts.
He at first stammered out a few unintelligible words, but his opponent
was in fearful earnest with his question; he seized the collar of the
anchorite’s coarse garment with terrible violence, and cried in a husky
voice, “Where did you find the dog? Where is--?”

But suddenly he left go his hold of the Alexandrian, looked at him from
head to foot, and said softly and slowly:

“Can it be possible? Are you Paulus, the Alexandrian?”

The anchorite nodded assent. Polykarp laughed loud and bitterly, pressed
his hand to his forehead, and exclaimed in a tone of the deepest disgust
and contempt:

“And is it so, indeed! and such a repulsive ape too! But I will not
believe that she even held out a hand to you, for the mere sight of you
makes me dirty.” Paulus felt his heart beating like a hammer within his
breast; and there was a singing and roaring in his ears. When once more
Polykarp threatened him with his fist he involuntarily took the posture
of an athlete in a wrestling match, he stretched out his arms to try
to get a good hold of his adversary, and said in a hollow, deep tone of
angry warning, “Stand back, or something will happen to you that will
not be good for your bones.”

The speaker was indeed Paulus--and yet--not Paulus; it was Menander, the
pride of the Palaestra, who had never let pass a word of his comrades
that did not altogether please him. And yet yesterday in the oasis he
had quietly submitted to far worse insults than Polykarp had offered
him, and had accepted them with contented cheerfulness. Whence then
to-day this wild sensitiveness and eager desire to fight?

When, two days since, he had gone to his old cave to fetch the last of
his hidden gold pieces, he had wished to greet old Stephanus, but the
Egyptian attendant had scared him off like an evil spirit with angry
curses, and had thrown stones after him. In the oasis he had attempted
to enter the church in spite of the bishop’s prohibition, there to put
up a prayer; for he thought that the antechamber, where the spring was
and in which penitents were wont to tarry, would certainly not be closed
even to him; but the acolytes had driven him away with abusive words,
and the door-keeper, who a short time since had trusted him with the
key, spit in his face, and yet he had not found it difficult to turn his
back on his persecutors without anger or complaint.

At the counter of the dealer of whom he had bought the woollen coverlet,
the little jug, and many other things for Sirona, a priest had passed
by, had pointed to his money, and had said, “Satan takes care of his
own.”

Paulus had answered him nothing, had returned to his charge with an
uplifted and grateful heart, and had heartily rejoiced once more in the
exalted and encouraging consciousness that he was enduring disgrace and
suffering for another in humble imitation of Christ. What was it then
that made him so acutely sensitive with regard to Polykarp, and once
more snapped those threads, which long years of self-denial had twined
into fetters for his impatient spirit? Was it that to the man, who
mortified his flesh in order to free his soul from its bonds it seemed
a lighter matter to be contemned as a sinner, hated of God, than to
let his person and his manly dignity be treated with contempt? Was he
thinking of the fair listener in the cave, who was a witness to his
humiliation? Had his wrath blazed up because he saw in Polykarp, not so
much an exasperated fellow-believer, as merely a man who with bold scorn
had put himself in the path of another man?

The lad and the gray-bearded athlete stood face to face like mortal
enemies ready for the fight, and Polykarp did not waver, although he,
like most Christian youths, had been forbidden to take part in the
wrestling-games in the Palaestra, and though he knew that he had to deal
with a strong and practised antagonist.

He himself was indeed no weakling, and his stormy indignation added to
his desire to measure himself against the hated seducer.

“Come on--come on!” he cried; his eyes flashing, and leaning forward
with his neck out-stretched and ready on his part for the struggle.
“Grip hold! you were a gladiator, or something of the kind, before you
put on that filthy dress that you might break into houses at night, and
go unpunished. Make this sacred spot an arena, and if you succeed in
making an end of me I will thank you, for what made life worth having to
me, you have already ruined whether or no. Only come on. Or perhaps
you think it easier to ruin the life of a woman than to measure your
strength against her defender? Clutch hold, I say, clutch hold, or--”

“Or you will fall upon me,” said Paulus, whose arms had dropped by his
side during the youth’s address. He spoke in a quite altered tone of
indifference. “Throw yourself upon me, and do with me what you will; I
will not prevent you. Here I shall stand, and I will not fight, for
you have so far hit the truth--this holy place is not an arena. But
the Gaulish lady belongs neither to you nor to me, and who gives you a
claim--?”

“Who gives me a right over her?” interrupted Polykarp, stepping close up
to his questioner with sparkling eyes. “He who permits the worshipper
to speak of his God. Sirona is mine, as the sun and moon and stars are
mine, because they shed a beautiful light on my murky path. My life is
mine--and she was the life of my life, and therefore I say boldly, and
would say, if there were twenty such as Phoebicius here, she belongs
to me. And because I regarded her as my own, and so regard her still, I
hate you and fling my scorn in your teeth--you are like a hungry sheep
that has got into the gardener’s flower-bed, and stolen from the stem
the wonderful, lovely flower that he has nurtured with care, and that
only blooms once in a hundred years--like a cat that has sneaked into
some marble hall, and that to satisfy its greed has strangled some rare
and splendid bird that a traveller has brought from a distant land. But
you! you hypocritical robber, who disregard your own body with beastly
pride, and sacrifice it to low brutality--what should you know of the
magic charm of beauty--that daughter of heaven, that can touch even
thoughtless children, and before which the gods themselves do homage!
I have a right to Sirona; for hide her where you will--or even if the
centurion were to find her, and to fetter her to himself with chains and
rivets of brass--still that which makes her the noblest work of the Most
High--the image of her beauty--lives in no one, in no one as it lives in
me. This hand has never even touched your victim--and yet God has given
Sirona to no man as he has given her wholly to me, for to no man can
she be what she is to me, and no man can love her as I do! She has the
nature of an angel, and the heart of a child; she is without spot, and
as pure as the diamond, or the swan’s breast, or the morning-dew in the
bosom of a rose. And though she had let you into her house a thousand
times, and though my father even, and my own mother, and every one,
every one pointed at her and condemned her, I would never cease to
believe in her purity. It is you who have brought her to shame; it is
you--”

“I kept silence while all condemned her,” said Paulus with warmth, “for
I believed that she was guilty, just as you believe that I am, just as
every one that is bound by no ties of love is more ready to believe evil
than good, Now I know, aye, know for certain, that we did the poor woman
an injustice. If the splendor of the lovely dream, that you call Sirona,
has been clouded by my fault--”

“Clouded? And by you?” laughed Polykarp. “Can the toad that plunges into
the sea, cloud its shining blue, can the black bat that flits across the
night, cloud the pure light of the full-moon?”

An emotion of rage again shot through the anchorite’s heart, but he was
by this time on his guard against himself, and he only said bitterly,
and with hardly-won composure:

“And how was it then with the flower, and with the bird, that were
destroyed by beasts without understanding? I fancy you meant no absent
third person by that beast, and yet now you declare that it is not
within my power even to throw a shadow over your day-star! You see
you contradict yourself in your anger, and the son of a wise man, who
himself has not long since left the school of rhetoric, should try to
avoid that. You might regard me with less hostility, for I will not
offend you; nay, I will repay your evil words with good--perhaps the
very best indeed that you ever heard in your life. Sirona is a worthy
and innocent woman, and at the time when Phoebicius came out to seek
her, I had never even set eyes upon her nor had my ears ever heard a
word pass her lips.”

At these words Polykarp’s threatening manner changed, and feeling at
once incapable of understanding the matter, and anxious to believe, he
eagerly exclaimed:

“But yet the sheepskin was yours, and you let yourself be thrashed by
Phoebicius without defending yourself.”

“So filthy an ape,” said Paulus, imitating Polykarp’s voice, “needs
many blows, and that day I could not venture to defend myself
because--because--But that is no concern of yours. You must subdue your
curiosity for a few days longer, and then it may easily happen that the
man whose very aspect makes you feel dirty--the bat, the toad--”

“Let that pass now,” cried Polykarp. “Perhaps the excitement which the
sight of you stirred up in my bruised and wounded heart, led me to use
unseemly language. Now, indeed, I see that your matted hair sits round
a well featured countenance. Forgive my violent and unjust attack. I was
beside myself, and I opened my whole soul to you, and now that you know
how it is with me, once more I ask you, where is Sirona?”

Polykarp looked Paulus in the face with anxious and urgent entreaty,
pointing to the dog as much as to say, “You must know, for here is the
evidence.”

The Alexandrian hesitated to answer; he glanced by chance at the
entrance of the cave, and seeing the gleam of Sirona’s white robe behind
the palm-branches, he said to himself that if Polykarp lingered much
longer, he could not fail to discover her--a consummation to be avoided.

There were many reasons which might have made him resolve to stand in
the way of a meeting between the lady and the young man, but not one of
them occurred to him, and though he did not even dream that a feeling
akin to jealousy had begun to influence him, still he was conscious that
it was his lively repugnance to seeing the two sink into each other’s
arms before his very eyes, that prompted him to turn shortly round, to
take up the body of the little dog, and to say to the enquirer:

“It is true, I do know where she is hiding, and when the time comes you
shall know it too. Now I must bury the animal, and if you will you can
help me.”

Without waiting for any objection on Polykarp’s part, he hurried from
stone to stone up to the plateau on the precipitous edge of which he had
first seen Sirona. The younger man followed him breathlessly, and only
joined him when he had already begun to dig out the earth with his
hands at the foot of a cliff. Polykarp was now standing close to the
anchorite, and repeated his question with vehement eagerness, but Paulus
did not look up from his work, and only said, digging faster and faster:

“Come to this place again to-morrow, and then it may perhaps be possible
that I should tell you.”

“You think to put me off with that,” cried the lad. “Then you are
mistaken in me, and if you cheat me with your honest-sounding words, I
will--”

But he did not end his threat, for a clear longing cry distinctly broke
the silence of the deserted mountain: “Polykarp--Polykarp.” It sounded
nearer and nearer, and the words had a magic effect on him for whose ear
they were intended.

With his head erect and trembling in every limb, the young man listened
eagerly. Then he cried out, “It is her voice! I am coming, Sirona, I
am coming.” And without paying any heed to the anchorite, he was on the
point of hurrying off to meet her. But Paulus placed himself close in
front of him, and said sternly: “You stay here.”

“Out of my way,” shouted Polykarp beside himself. “She is calling to me
out of the hole where you are keeping her--you slanderer--you cowardly
liar! Out of the way I say! You will not? Then defend yourself, you
hideous toad, or I will tread you down, if my foot does not fear to be
soiled with your poison.”

Up to this moment Paulus had stood before the young man with out-spread
arms, motionless, but immovable as an oak-tree; now Polykarp first hit
him. This blow shattered the anchorite’s patience, and, no longer master
of himself, he exclaimed, “You shall answer to me for this!” and before
a third and fourth call had come from Sirona’s lips, he had grasped the
artist’s slender body, and with a mighty swing he flung him backwards
over his own broad and powerful shoulders on to the stony ground.

After this mad act he stood over his victim with out-stretched legs,
folded arms, and rolling eyes, as if rooted to the earth. He waited till
Polykarp had picked himself up, and, without looking round, but pressing
his hands to the back of his head, had tottered away like a drunken man.

Paulus looked after him till he disappeared over the cliff at the edge
of the level ground; but he did not see how Polykarp fell senseless to
the ground with a stifled cry, not far from the very spring whence his
enemy had fetched the water to refresh Sirona’s parched lips.



CHAPTER XVI.

“She will attract the attention of Damianus or Salathiel or one of the
others up there,” thought Paulus as he heard Sirona’s call once more,
and, following her voice, he went hastily and excitedly down the
mountainside.

“We shall have peace for to-day at any rate from that audacious fellow,”
 muttered he to himself, “and perhaps to-morrow too, for his blue bruises
will be a greeting from me. But how difficult it is to forget what we
have once known! The grip, with which I flung him, I learned--how long
ago?--from the chief-gymnast at Delphi. My marrow is not yet quite dried
up, and that I will prove to the boy with these fists, if he comes back
with three or four of the same mettle.”

But Paulus had not long to indulge in such wild thoughts, for on the
way to the cave he met Sirona. “Where is Polykarp?” she called out from
afar.

“I have sent him home,” he answered. “And he obeyed you?” she asked
again.

“I gave him striking reasons for doing so,” he replied quickly.

“But he will return?”

“He has learned enough up here for to-day. We have now to think of your
journey to Alexandria.”

“But it seems to me,” replied Sirona, blushing, “that I am safely hidden
in your cave, and just now you yourself said--”

“I warned you against the dangers of the expedition,” interrupted
Paulus. “But since that it has occurred to me that I know of a shelter,
and of a safe protector for you. There, we are at home again. Now go
into the cave, for very probably some one may have heard you calling,
and if other anchorites were to discover you here, they would compel me
to take you back to your husband.”

“I will go directly,” sighed Sirona, “but first explain to me--for
I heard all that you said to each other--” and she colored, “how it
happened that Phoebicius took Hermas’ sheepskin for yours, and why you
let him beat you without giving any explanation.”

“Because my back is even broader than that great fellow’s,” replied the
Alexandrian quickly. “I will tell you all about it in some quiet hour,
perhaps on our journey to Klysma. Now go into the cave, or you may spoil
everything. I know too what you lack most since you heard the fair words
of the senator’s son.”

“Well--what?” asked Sirona.

“A mirror!” laughed Paulus.

“How much you are mistaken!” said Sirona; and she thought to herself,
“The woman that Polykarp looks at as he does at me, does not need a
mirror.”

An old Jewish merchant lived in the fishing-town on the western
declivity of the mountain; he shipped the charcoal for Egypt, which was
made in the valleys of the peninsula by burning the sajal acacia, and he
had formerly supplied fuel for the drying-room of the papyrus-factory of
Paulus’ father. He now had a business connection with his brother, and
Paulus himself had had dealings with him. He was prudent and wealthy,
and whenever he met the anchorite, he blamed him for his flight from
the world, and implored him to put his hospitality to the test, and to
command his resources and means as if they were his own.

This man was now to find a boat, and to provide the means of flight for
Sirona. The longer Paulus thought it over, the more indispensable it
seemed to him that he should himself accompany the Gaulish lady to
Alexandria, and in his own person find her a safe shelter. He knew that
he was free to dispose of his brother’s enormous fortune-half of which
in fact was his--as though it were all his own, and he began to rejoice
in his possessions for the first time for many years. Soon he was
occupied in thinking of the furnishing of the house, which he intended
to assign to the fair Sirona. At first he thought of a simple citizen’s
dwelling, but by degrees he began to picture the house intended for
her as fitted with shining gold, white and colored marble, many-colored
Syrian carpets, nay even with vain works of the heathen, with statues,
and a luxurious bath. In increasing unrest he wandered from rock to
rock, and many times as he went up and down he paused in front of the
cave where Sirona was. Once he saw her light robe, and its conspicuous
gleam led him to the reflection, that it would be imprudent to conduct
her to the humble fishing-village in that dress. If he meant to conceal
her traces from the search of Phoebicius and Polykarp, he must first
provide her with a simple dress, and a veil that should hide her shining
hair and fair face, which even in the capital could find no match.

The Amalekite, from whom he had twice bought some goat’s-milk for her,
lived in a but which Paulus could easily reach. He still possessed a few
drachmas, and with these he could purchase what he needed from the wife
and daughter of the goatherd. Although the sky was now covered with mist
and a hot sweltering south-wind had risen, he prepared to start at once.
The sun was no longer visible though its scorching heat could be felt,
but Paulus paid no heed to this sign of an approaching storm.

Hastily, and with so little attention that he confused one object with
another in the little store-cellar, he laid some bread, a knife, and
some dates in front of the entrance to the cave, called out to his guest
that he should soon return, and hurried at a rapid pace up the mountain.

Sirona answered him with a gentle word of farewell, and did not even
look round after him, for she was glad to be alone, and so soon as the
sound of his step had died away she gave herself up once more to the
overwhelming torrent of new and deep feelings which had flooded her soul
ever since she had heard Polykarp’s ardent hymn of love.

Paulus, in the last few hours, was Menander again, but the lonely woman
in the cavern--the cause of this transformation--the wife of Phoebicius,
had undergone an even greater change than he. She was still Sirona, and
yet not Sirona.

When the anchorite had commanded her to retire into the cave she had
obeyed him willingly, nay, she would have withdrawn even without his
desire, and have sought for solitude; for she felt that something
mighty, hitherto unknown to her, and incomprehensible even to herself,
was passing in her soul, and that a nameless but potent something
had grown up in her heart, had struggled free, and had found life
and motion; a something that was strange, and yet precious to her,
frightening, and yet sweet, a pain, and yet unspeakably delightful. An
emotion such as she had never before known had mastered her, and she
felt, since hearing Polykarp’s speech, as if a new and purer blood was
flowing rapidly through her veins. Every nerve quivered like the leaves
of the poplars in her former home when the wind blows down to meet the
Rhone, and she found it difficult to follow what Paulus said, and still
more so to find the right answer to his questions.

As soon as she was alone she sat down on her bed, rested her elbows on
her knees, and her head in her hand, and the growing and surging flood
of her passion broke out in an abundant stream of warm tears.

She had never wept so before; no anguish, no bitterness was infused into
the sweet refreshing dew of those tears. Fair flowers of never dreamed
of splendor and beauty blossomed in the heart of the weeping woman, and
when at length her tears ceased, there was a great silence, but also a
great glory within her and around her. She was like a man who has grown
up in an under-ground-room, where no light of day can ever shine, and
who at last is allowed to look at the blue heavens, at the splendor of
the sun, at the myriad flowers and leaves in the green woods, and on the
meadows.

She was wretched, and yet a happy woman.

“That is love!” were the words that her heart sang in triumph, and as
her memory looked back on the admirers who had approached her in Arelas
when she was still little more than a child, and afterwards in Rome,
with tender words and looks, they all appeared like phantom forms
carrying feeble tapers, whose light paled pitifully, for Polykarp had
now come on the scene, bearing the very sun itself in his hands.

“They--and he,” she murmured to herself, and she beheld as it were a
balance, and on one of the scales lay the homage which in her vain fancy
she had so coveted. It was of no more weight than chaff, and its whole
mass was like a heap of straw, which flew up as soon as Polykarp laid
his love--a hundredweight of pure gold, in the other scale.

“And if all the nations and kings of the earth brought their treasures
together,” thought she, “and laid them at my feet, they could not make
me as rich as he has made me, and if all the stars were fused into
one, the vast globe of light which they would form could not shine so
brightly as the joy that fills my soul. Come now what may, I will never
complain after that hour of delight.”

Then she thought over each of her former meetings with Polykarp, and
remembered that he had never spoken to her of love. What must it not
have cost him to control himself thus; and a great triumphant joy filled
her heart at the thought that she was pure, and not unworthy of him, and
an unutterable sense of gratitude rose up in her soul. The love she bore
this man seemed to take wings, and it spread itself over the common life
and aspect of the world, and rose to a spirit of devotion. With a deep
sigh she raised her eyes and hands to heaven, and in her longing to
prove her love to every living being, nay to every created thing, her
spirit sought the mighty and beneficent Power to whom she owed such
exalted happiness.

In her youth her father had kept her very strictly, but still he
had allowed her to go through the streets of the town with her young
companions, wreathed with flowers, and all dressed in their best, in the
procession of maidens at the feast of Venus of Arelas, to whom all the
women of her native town were wont to turn with prayers and sacrifices
when their hearts were touched by love.

Now she tried to pray to Venus, but again and again the wanton jests of
the men who were used to accompany the maidens came into her mind,
and memories of how she herself had eagerly listened for the only too
frequent cries of admiration, and had enticed the silent with a glance,
or thanked the more clamorous with a smile. To-day certainly she had
no mind for such sport, and she recollected the stern words which had
fallen from Dorothea’s lips on the worship of Venus, when she had once
told her how well the natives of Arelas knew how to keep their feasts.

And Polykarp, whose heart was nevertheless so full of love, he no doubt
thought like his mother, and she pictured him as she had frequently seen
him following his parents by the side of his sister Marthana--often hand
in hand with her--as they went to church. The senator’s son had
always had a kindly glance for her, excepting when he was one of this
procession to the temple of the God of whom they said that He was love
itself, and whose votaries indeed were not poor in love; for in Petrus’
house, if anywhere, all hearts were united by a tender affection. It
then occurred to her that Paulus had just now advised her to turn to
the crucified God of the Christians, who was full of an equal and divine
love to all men. To him Polykarp also prayed--was praying perhaps this
very hour; and if she now did the same her prayers would ascend together
with his, and so she might be in some sort one with that beloved friend,
from whom everything else conspired to part her.

She knelt down and folded her hands, as she had so often seen Christians
do, and she reflected on the torments that the poor Man, who hung with
pierced hands on the cross, had so meekly endured, though He suffered
innocently; she felt the deepest pity for Him, and softly said to
herself, as she raised her eyes to the low roof of her cave-dwelling:

“Thou poor good Son of God, Thou knowest what it is when all men condemn
us unjustly, and surely, Thou canst understand when I say to Thee how
sore my poor heart is! And they say too, that of all hearts Thine is the
most loving, and so thou wilt know how it is that, in spite of all my
misery, it still seems to me that I am a happy woman. The very breath
of a God must be rapture, and that Thou too must have learned when they
tortured and mocked Thee, for Thou halt suffered out of love. They
say, that Thou wast wholly pure and perfectly sinless. Now I--I have
committed many follies, but not a sin--a real sin--no, indeed, I have
not; and Thou must know it, for Thou art a God, and knowest the past,
and canst read hearts. And, indeed, I also would fain remain innocent,
and yet how can that be when I cannot help being devoted to Polykarp,
and yet I am another man’s wife. But am I indeed the true and lawful
wife of that horrible wretch who sold me to another? He is as far
from my heart--as far as if I had never seen him with these eyes. And
yet--believe me--I wish him no ill, and I will be quite content, if only
I need never go back to him.

“When I was a child, I was afraid of frogs; my brothers and sisters knew
it, and once my brother Licinius laid a large one, that he had caught,
on my bare neck. I started, and shuddered, and screamed out loud, for it
was so hideously cold and damp--I cannot express it. And that is exactly
how I have always felt since those days in Rome whenever Phoebicius
touched me, and yet I dared not scream when he did.

“But Polykarp! oh! would that he were here, and might only grasp my
hand. He said I was his own, and yet I have never encouraged him. But
now! if a danger threatened him or a sorrow, and if by any means I could
save him from it, indeed--indeed--though I never could bear pain well,
and am afraid of death, I would let them nail me to a cross for him, as
Thou wast crucified for us all.

“But then he must know that I had died for him, and if he looked into my
dying eyes with his strange, deep gaze, I would tell him that it is to
him that I owe a love so great that it is a thing altogether different
and higher than any love I have ever before seen. And a feeling that is
so far above all measure of what ordinary mortals experience, it seems
to me, must be divine. Can such love be wrong? I know not; but Thou
knowest, and Thou, whom they name the Good Shepherd, lead Thou us--each
apart from the other, if it be best so for him--but yet, if it be
possible, unite us once more, if it be only for one single hour. If only
he could know that I am not wicked, and that poor Sirona would willingly
belong to him, and to no other, then I would be ready to die. O Thou
good, kind Shepherd, take me too into Thy flock, and guide me.”

Thus prayed Sirona, and before her fancy there floated the image of a
lovely and loving youthful form; she had seen the original in the model
for Polykarp’s noble work, and she had not forgotten the exquisite
details of the face. It seemed to her as well known and familiar as if
she had known--what in fact she could not even guess--that she herself
had had some share in the success of the work.

The love which unites two hearts is like the ocean of Homer which
encircles both halves of the earth. It flows and rolls on. Where shall
we seek its source--here or there--who can tell?

It was Dame Dorothea who in her motherly pride had led the Gaulish lady
into her son’s workshop. Sirona thought of her and her husband and her
house, where over the door a motto was carved in the stone which she had
seen every morning from her sleeping-room. She could not read Greek, but
Polykarp’s sister, Marthana, had more than once told her what it
meant. “Commit thy way to the Lord, and put thy trust in Him,” ran the
inscription, and she repeated it to herself again and again, and then
drew fancy-pictures of the future in smiling day-dreams, which by
degrees assumed sharper outlines and brighter colors.

She saw herself united to Polykarp, and as the daughter of Petrus and
Dorothea, at home in the senator’s house; she had a right now to the
children who loved her, and who were so dear to her; she helped the
deaconess in all her labors, and won praise, and looks of approval. She
had learned to use her hands in her father’s house and now she could
show what she could do; Polykarp even gazed at her with surprise and
admiration, and said that she was as clever as she was beautiful,
and promised to become a second Dorothea. She went with him into his
workshop, and there arranged all the things that lay about in confusion,
and dusted it, while he followed her every movement with his gaze, and
at last stood before her, his arms wide--wide open to clasp her.

She started, and pressed her hands over her eyes, and flung herself
loving and beloved on his breast, and would have thrown her arms round
his neck, while her hot tears flowed--but the sweet vision was suddenly
shattered, for a swift flash of light pierced the gloom of the cavern,
and immediately after she heard the heavy roll of the thunder-clap,
dulled by the rocky walls of her dwelling.

Completely recalled to actuality she listened for a moment, and then
stepped to the entrance of the cave. It was already dusk, and heavy
rain-drops were falling from the dark clouds which seemed to shroud the
mountain peaks in a vast veil of black crape. Paulus was nowhere to be
seen, but there stood the food he had prepared for her. She had eaten
nothing since her breakfast, and she now tried to drink the milk, but it
had curdled and was not fit to use; a small bit of bread and a few dates
quite satisfied her.

As the lightning and thunder began to follow each other more and more
quickly, and the darkness fast grew deeper, a great fear fell upon her;
she pushed the food on one side, and looked up to the mountain where
the peaks were now wholly veiled in night, now seemed afloat in a sea of
flame, and more distinctly visible than by daylight. Again and again a
forked flash like a saw-blade of fire cut through the black curtain of
cloud with terrific swiftness, again and again the thunder sounded
like a blast of trumpets through the silent wilderness, and multiplied
itself, clattering, growling, roaring, and echoing from rock to rock.
Light and sound at last seemed to be hurled from Heaven together, and
the very rock in which her cave was formed quaked.

Crushed and trembling she drew back into the inmost depth of her rocky
chamber, starting at each flash that illumined the darkness.

At length they occurred at longer intervals, the thunder lost its
appalling fury, and as the wind drove the storm farther and farther to
the southwards, at last it wholly died away.



CHAPTER XVII.

It was quite dark in Sirona’s cavern, fearfully dark, and the blacker
grew the night which shrouded her, the more her terror increased. From
time to time she shut her eyes as tightly as she could, for she fancied
she could see a crimson glare, and she longed for light in that hour
as a drowning man longs for the shore. Dark forebodings of every kind
oppressed her soul.

What if Paulus had abandoned her, and had left her to her fate? Or if
Polykarp should have been searching for her on the mountain in this
storm, and in the darkness should have fallen into some abyss, or have
been struck by the lightning? Suppose the mass of rock that overhung the
entrance to the cave should have been loosened in the storm, and should
fall, and bar her exit to the open air? Then she would be buried alive,
and she must perish alone, without seeing him whom she loved once more,
or telling him that she had not been unworthy of his trust in her.

Cruelly tormented by such thoughts as these, she dragged herself up and
felt her way out into the air and wind, for she could no longer hold out
in the gloomy solitude and fearful darkness. She had hardly reached the
mouth of the cave, when she heard steps approaching her lurking place,
and again she shrank back. Who was it that could venture in this
pitch-dark night to climb from rock to rock? Was it Paulus returning?
Was it he--was it Polykarp seeking her? She felt intoxicated; she
pressed her hands to her heart, and longed to cry out, but she dared
not, and her tongue refused its office. She listened with the tension of
terror to the sound of the steps which came straight towards her nearer
and nearer, then the wanderer perceived the faint gleam of her white
dress, and called out to her. It was Paulus.

She drew a deep breath of relief when she recognized his voice, and
answered his call.

“In such weather as this,” said the anchorite, “it is better to be
within than without, it seems to me, for it is not particularly pleasant
out here, so far as I have found.”

“But it has been frightful here inside the cave too,” Sirona answered,
“I have been so dreadfully frightened, I was so lonely in the horrible
darkness. If only I had had my little dog with me, it would at least
have been a living being.”

“I have made haste as well as I could,” interrupted Paulus. “The paths
are not so smooth here as the Kanopic road in Alexandria, and as I have
not three necks like Cerberus, who lies at the feet of Serapis, it would
have been wiser of me to return to you a little more leisurely. The
storm-bird has swallowed up all the stars as if they were flies, and
the poor old mountain is so grieved at it, that streams of tears are
everywhere flowing over his stony cheeks. It is wet even here. Now go
back into the cave, and let me lay this that I have got here for you in
my arms, in the dry passage. I bring you good news; to-morrow evening,
when it is growing dusk, we start. I have found out a vessel which
will convey us to Klysma, and from thence I myself will conduct you to
Alexandria. In the sheepskin here you will find the dress and veil of
an Amalekite woman, and if your traces are to be kept hidden from
Phoebicius, you must accommodate yourself to this disguise; for if the
people down there were to see you as I saw you to-day, they would think
that Aphrodite herself had risen from the sea, and the report of the
fair-haired beauty that had appeared among them would soon spread even
to the oasis.”

“But it seems to me that I am well hidden here,” replied Sirona. “I am
afraid of a sea-voyage, and even if we succeeded in reaching Alexandria
without impediment, still I do not know--”

“It shall be my business to provide for you there.” Paulus interrupted
with a decision that was almost boastful, and that somewhat disturbed
Sirona. “You know the fable of the ass in the lion’s skin, but there are
lions who wear the skin of an ass on their shoulders--or of a sheep,
it comes to the same thing. Yesterday you were speaking of the splendid
palaces of the citizens, and lauding the happiness of their owners. You
shall dwell in one of those marble houses, and rule it as its mistress,
and it shall be my care to procure you slaves, and litter-bearers, and
a carriage with four mules. Do not doubt my word, for I am promising
nothing that I cannot perform. The rain is ceasing, and I will try to
light a fire. You want nothing more to eat? Well then, I will wish you
good-night. The rest will all do to-morrow.”

Sirona had listened in astonishment to the anchorite’s promises.

How often had she envied those who possessed all that her strange
protector now promised her--and now it had not the smallest charm for
her; and, fully determined in any case not to follow Paulus, whom she
began to distrust, she replied, as she coldly returned his greeting,
“There are many hours yet before tomorrow evening in which we can
discuss everything.”

While Paulus was with great difficulty rekindling the fire, she was once
more alone, and again she began to be alarmed in the dark cavern.

She called the Alexandrian. “The darkness terrifies me so,” she said.
“You still had some oil in the jug this morning; perhaps you may be able
to contrive a little lamp for me; it is so fearful to stay here in the
dark.”

Paulus at once took a shard, tore a strip from his tattered coat,
twisted it together, and laid it for a wick in the greasy fluid, lighted
it at the slowly reviving fire, and putting this more than simple light
in Sirona’s hand, he said, “It will serve its purpose; in Alexandria I
will see that you have lamps which give more light, and which are made
by a better artist.”

Sirona placed the lamp in a hollow in the rocky wall at the head of her
bed, and then lay down to rest. Light scares away wild beasts and fear
too from the resting-place of man, and it kept terrifying thoughts far
away from the Gaulish woman.

She contemplated her situation clearly and calmly, and quite decided
that she would neither quit the cave, nor entrust herself to the
anchorite, till she had once more seen and spoken to Polykarp. He no
doubt knew where to seek her, and certainly, she thought, he would by
this time have returned, if the storm and the starless night had not
rendered it an impossibility to come up the mountain from the oasis.

“To-morrow I shall see him again, and then I will open my heart to him,
and he shall read my soul like a book, and on every page, and in every
line he will find his own name. And I will tell him too that I have
prayed to his ‘Good Shepherd,’ and how much good it has done me, and
that I will be a Christian like his sister Marthana and his mother.
Dorothea will be glad indeed when she hears it, and she at any rate
cannot have thought that I was wicked, for she always loved me, and the
children--the children--”

The bright crowd of merry faces came smiling in upon her fancy, and her
thoughts passed insensibly into dreams; kindly sleep touched her heart
with its gentle hand, and its breath swept every shadow of trouble from
her soul. She slept, smiling and untroubled as a child whose eyes some
guardian angel softly kisses, while her strange protector now turned the
flickering wood on the damp hearth and with a reddening face blew up the
dying charcoal-fire, and again walked restlessly up and down, and paused
each time he passed the entrance to the cave, to throw a longing glance
at the light which shone out from Sirona’s sleeping-room.

Since the moment when he had flung Polykarp to the ground, Paulus had
not succeeded in recovering his self-command; not for a moment had he
regretted the deed, for the reflection had never occurred to him, that
a fall on the stony soil of the Sacred Mountain, which was as hard as
iron, must hurt more than a fall on the’ sand of the arena.

“The impudent fellow,” thought he, “richly deserved what he got. Who
gave him a better right over Sirona than he, Paulus himself, had--he who
had saved her life, and had taken it upon himself to protect her?” Her
great beauty had charmed him from the first moment of their meeting, but
no impure thought stirred his heart as he gazed at her with delight, and
listened with emotion to her childlike talk. It was the hot torrent of
Polykarp’s words that had first thrown the spark into his soul, which
jealousy and the dread of having to abandon Sirona to another, had soon
fanned into a consuming flame. He would not give up this woman, he would
continue to care for her every need, she should owe everything to him,
and to him only. And so, without reserve, he devoted himself body and
soul to the preparations for her flight. The hot breath of the storm,
the thunder and lightning, torrents of rain, and blackness of night
could not delay him, while he leaped from rock to rock, feeling his
way-soaked through, weary and in peril; he thought only of her, and of
how he could most safely carry her to Alexandria, and then surround
her with all that could charm a woman’s taste. Nothing--nothing did he
desire for himself, and all that he dreamed of and planned turned only
and exclusively on the pleasure which he might afford her. When he had
prepared and lighted the lamp for her he saw her again, and was startled
at the beauty of the face that the trembling flame revealed. He could
observe her a few seconds only, and then she had vanished, and he must
remain alone in the darkness and the rain. He walked restlessly up and
down, and an agonizing longing once more to see her face lighted up
by the pale flame, and the white arm that she had held out to take the
lamp, grew more and more strong in him and accelerated the pulses of
his throbbing heart. As often as he passed the cave, and observed the
glimmer of light that came from her room, he felt prompted and urged to
slip in, and to gaze on her once more. He never once thought of prayer
and scourging, his old means of grace, he sought rather for a reason
that might serve him as an excuse if he went in, and it struck him that
it was cold, and that a sheepskin was lying in the cavern. He would
fetch it, in spite of his vow never to wear a sheepskin again; and
supposing he were thus enabled to see her, what next?

When he had Stepped across the threshold, an inward voice warned him
to return, and told him that he must be treading the path of
unrighteousness, for that he was stealing in on tiptoe like a thief; but
the excuse was ready at once. “That is for fear of waking her, if she is
asleep.”

And now all further reflection was silenced for he had already reached
the spot where, at the end of the rocky passage, the cave widened into
her sleeping-room; there she lay on her hard couch, sunk in slumber and
enchantingly fair.

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!”



CHAPTER XVIII.

Common natures can only be lightly touched by the immeasurable depth of
anguish that is experienced by a soul that despairs of itself; but the
more heavily the blow of such suffering falls, the more surely does it
work with purifying power on him who has to taste of that cup.

Paulus thought no more of the fair, sleeping woman; tortured by acute
remorse he lay on the hard stones, feeling that he had striven in vain.
When he had taken Hermas’ sin and punishment and disgrace upon himself,
it had seemed to him that he was treading in the very footsteps of the
Saviour. And now?--He felt like one who, while running for a prize,
stumbles over a stone and grovels in the sand when he is already close
to the goal.

“God sees the will and not the deed,” he muttered to himself. “What I
did wrong with regard to Sirona--or what I did not do--that matters not.
When I leaned over her, I had fallen utterly and entirely into the power
of the evil one, and was an ally of the deadliest enemy of Him to whom
I had dedicated my life and soul. Of what avail was my flight from the
world, and my useless sojourn in the desert? He who always keeps out
of the way of the battle can easily boast of being unconquered to the
end-but is he therefore a hero? The palm belongs to him who in the midst
of the struggles and affairs of the world clings to the heavenward road,
and never lets himself be diverted from it; but as for me who walk here
alone, a woman and a boy cross my path, and one threatens and the other
beckons to me, and I forget my aim and stumble into the bog of iniquity.
And so I cannot find--no, here I cannot find what I strive after. But
how then--how? Enlighten me, O Lord, and reveal to me what I must do.”

Thus thinking he rose, knelt down, and prayed fervently; when at last he
came to the ‘Amen,’ his head was burning, and his tongue parched.

The clouds had parted, though they still hung in black masses in the
west; from time to time gleams of lightning shone luridly on the horizon
and lighted up the jagged peak of mountain with a flare; the moon had
risen, but its waning disk was frequently obscured by dark driving
masses of cloud; blinding flashes, tender light, and utter darkness were
alternating with bewildering rapidity, when Paulus at last collected
himself, and went down to the spring to drink, and to cool his brow in
the fresh water. Striding from stone to stone he told himself, that ere
he could begin a new life, he must do penance--some heavy penance; but
what was it to be? He was standing at the very margin of the brook,
hemmed in by cliffs, and was bending down to it, but before he had
moistened his lips he drew back: just because he was so thirsty he
resolved to deny himself drink. Hastily, almost vehemently, he turned
his back on the spring, and after this little victory over himself, his
storm-tossed heart seemed a little calmer. Far, far from hence and from
the wilderness and from the Sacred Mountain he felt impelled to fly, and
he would gladly have fled then and there to a distance. Whither should
he flee? It was all the same, for he was in search of suffering, and
suffering, like weeds, grows on every road. And from whom? This question
repeated itself again and again as if he had shouted it in the very home
of echo, and the answer was not hard to find: “It is from yourself that
you would flee. It is your own inmost self that is your enemy; bury
yourself in what desert you will, it will pursue you, and it would be
easier for you to cut off your shadow than to leave that behind?”

His whole consciousness was absorbed by this sense of impotency, and
now, after the stormy excitement of the last few hours, the deepest
depression took possession of his mind. Exhausted, unstrung, full of
loathing of himself and life, he sank down on a stone, and thought over
the occurrences of the last few days with perfect impartiality.

“Of all the fools that ever I met,” thought he, “I have gone farthest
in folly, and have thereby led things into a state of confusion which
I myself could not make straight again, even if I were a sage--which I
certainly never shall be any more than a tortoise or a phoenix. I once
heard tell of a hermit who, because it is written that we ought to bury
the dead, and because he had no corpse, slew a traveller that he might
fulfil the commandment: I have acted in exactly the same way, for, in
order to spare another man suffering and to bear the sins of another,
I have plunged an innocent woman into misery, and made myself indeed a
sinner. As soon as it is light I will go down to the oasis and confess
to Petrus and Dorothea what I have done. They will punish me, and I will
honestly help them, so that nothing of the penance that they may lay
upon me may be remitted. The less mercy I show to myself, the more will
the Eternal judge show to me.”

He rose, considered the position of the stars, and when he perceived
that morning was not far off, he prepared to return to Sirona, who
was no longer any more to him than an unhappy woman to whom he owed
reparation for much evil, when a loud cry of distress in the immediate
vicinity fell on his ear.

He mechanically stooped to pick up a stone for a weapon, and listened.
He knew every rock in the neighborhood of the spring, and when the
strange groan again made itself heard, he knew that it came from a spot
which he knew well and where he had often rested, because a large flat
stone supported by a stout pillar of granite, stood up far above
the surrounding rocks, and afforded protection from the sun, even at
noonday, when not a hand’s breath of shade was to be found elsewhere.

Perhaps some wounded beast had crept under the rock for shelter from the
rain. Paulus went cautiously forward. The groaning sounded louder and
more distinct than before, and beyond a doubt it was the voice of a
human being.

The anchorite hastily threw away the stone, fell upon his knees,
and soon found on the dry spot of ground under the stone, and in the
farthermost nook of the retreat, a motionless human form.

“It is most likely a herdsman that has been struck by lightning,”
 thought he, as he felt with his hands the curly head of the sufferer,
and the strong arms that now bung down powerless. As he raised the
injured man, who still uttered low moans, and supported his head on his
broad breast, the sweet perfume of fine ointment was wafted to him from
his hair, and a fearful suspicion dawned upon his mind.

“Polykarp!” he cried, while he clasped his hands more tightly round the
body of the sufferer who, thus called upon, moved and muttered a few
unintelligible words; in a low tone, but still much too clearly for
Paulus, for he now knew for certain that he had guessed rightly. With a
loud cry of horror he grasped the youth’s powerless form, raised him in
his arms, and carried him like a child to the margin of the spring where
he laid his noble burden down in the moist grass; Polykarp started and
opened his eyes.

Morning was already dawning, the light clouds on the eastern horizon
were already edged with rosy fringes, and the coming day began to lift
the dark veil from the forms and hues of creation.

The young man recognized the anchorite, who with trembling hands was
washing the wound at the back of his head, and his eye assumed an
angry glare as he called up all his remaining strength and pushed his
attendant from him. Paulus did not withdraw, he accepted the blow from
his victim as a gift or a greeting, thinking, “Aye, and I only wish you
had a dagger in your hand; I would not resist you.”

The artist’s wound was frightfully wide and deep, but the blood had
flowed among his thick curls, and had clotted over the lacerated veins
like a thick dressing. The water with which Paulus now washed his head
reopened them, and renewed the bleeding, and after the one powerful
effort with which Polykarp pushed away his enemy, he fell back senseless
in his arms The wan morning-light added to the pallor of the bloodless
countenance that lay with glazed eyes in the anchorite’s lap.

“He is dying!” murmured Paulus in deadly anguish and with choking
breath, while he looked across the valley and up to the heights, seeking
help. The mountain rose in front of him, its majestic mass glowing in
the rosy dawn, while light translucent vapor floated round the peak
where the Lord had written His laws for His chosen people, and for all
peoples, on tables of stone; it seemed to Paulus that he saw the giant
form of Moses far, far up on its sublimest height and that from his lips
in brazen tones the strictest of all the commandments was thundered down
upon him with awful wrath, “Thou shalt not kill!”

Paulus clasped his hands before his face in silent despair, while his
victim still lay in his lap. He had closed his eyes, for he dared not
look on the youth’s pale countenance, and still less dared he look up
at the mountain; but the brazen voice from the height did not cease, and
sounded louder and louder; half beside himself with excitement, in his
inward ear he heard it still, “Thou shalt not kill!” and then again,
“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife!” a third time, “Thou shalt
not commit adultery!” and at last a fourth, “Thou shalt have none other
gods but me!”

He that sins against one of those laws is damned; and he--he had broken
them all, broken them while striving to tread the thorny path to a life
of blessedness.

Suddenly and wildly he threw his arms up to heaven, and sighing deeply,
gazed up at the sacred hill.

What was that? On the topmost peak of Sinai whence the Pharanite
sentinels were accustomed to watch the distance, a handkerchief was
waving as a signal that the enemy were approaching.

He could not be mistaken, and as in the face of approaching danger he
collected himself and recovered his powers of thought and deliberation,
his ear distinctly caught the mighty floods of stirring sound that came
over the mountain, from the brazen cymbals struck by the watchmen to
warn the inhabitants of the oasis, and the anchorites.

Was Hermas returned? Had the Blemmyes outstripped him? From what quarter
were the marauding hosts coming on? Could he venture to remain here near
his victim, or was it his duty to use his powerful arms in defence of
his helpless companions? In agonized doubt he looked down at the youth’s
pallid features, and deep, sorrowful compassion filled his mind.

How promising was this young tree of humanity that his rough fist had
broken off! and these brown curls had only yesterday been stroked by a
mother’s hand. His eyes filled with tears, and he bent as tenderly as
a father might over the pale face, and pressed a gentle kiss on the
bloodless lips of the senseless youth. A thrill of joy shot through
him, for Polykarp’s lips were indeed not cold, he moved his hand, and
now--the Lord be praised! he actually opened his eyes.

“And I am not a murderer!” A thousand voices seem to sing with joy in
his heart, and then he thought to himself, “First I will carry him down
to his parents in the oasis, and then go up to the brethren.”

But the brazen signals rang out with renewed power, and the stillness
of the holy wilderness was broken here by the clatter of men’s voices,
there by a blast of trumpets, and there again by stifled cries. It was
as if a charm had given life to the rocks and lent their voices; as if
noise and clamor were rushing like wild torrents down every gorge and
cleft of the mountainside.

“It is too late,” sighed the anchorite. “If I only could--if I only
knew--”

“Hallo! hallo! holy Paulus!” a shrill woman’s voice which seemed to come
from high up in the air rang out joyful and triumphant, interrupting the
irresolute man’s meditations, “Hermas is alive! Hermas is here again!
Only look up at the heights. There flies the standard, for he has warned
the sentinels. The Blemmyes are coming on, and he sent me to seek you.
You must come to the strong tower on the western side of the ravine.
Make haste! come at once! Do you hear? He told me to tell you. But the
man in your lap--it is--yes, it is--”

“It is your master’s son Polykarp,” Paulus called back to her. “He is
hurt unto death; hurry down to the oasis, and tell the senator, tell
Dame Dorothea--”

“I have something else to do now,” interrupted the shepherdess. “Hermas
has sent me to warn Gelasius, Psoes, and Dulas, and if I went down into
the oasis they would lock me up, and not let me come up the mountain
again. What has happened to the poor fellow? But it is all the same:
there is something else for you to do besides grieving over a hole in
Polykarp’s head. Go up to the tower, I tell you, and let him lie--or
carry him up with you into your new den, and hand him over to your
sweetheart to nurse.”

“Demon!” exclaimed Paulus, taking up a stone.

“Let him he!” repeated Miriam. “I will betray her hiding-place to
Phoebicius, if you do not do as Dermas orders you. Now I am off to call
the others, and we shall meet again at the tower. And you had better not
linger too long with your fair companion--pious Paulus--saintly Paulus!”

And laughing loudly, she sprang away from rock to rock as if borne up by
the air.

The Alexandrian looked wrathfully after her; but her advice did not
seem to be bad, he lifted the wounded man on his shoulders, and hastily
carried him up towards his cave; but before he could reach it he heard
steps, and a loud agonized scream, and in a few seconds Sirona was by
his side, crying in passionate grief, “It is he, it is he-and oh, to see
him thus!--But he must live, for if he were dead your God of Love would
be inexorable, pitiless, hard, cruel--it would be--”

She could say no more, for tears choked her voice, and Paulus, without
listening to her lamentation, passed quickly on in front of her, entered
the cave and laid the unconscious man down on the couch, saying gravely
but kindly, as Sirona threw herself on her knees and pressed the young
man’s powerless hand to her lips, “If indeed you truly love him, cease
crying and lamenting. He yesterday got a severe wound on his head; I
have washed it, now do you bind it up with care, and keep it constantly
cool with fresh water. You know your way to the spring; when he recovers
his senses rub his feet, and give him some bread and a few drops of the
wine which you will find in the little cellar hard by; there is some oil
there too, which you will need for a light.

“I must go up to the brethren, and if I do not return to-morrow, give
the poor lad over to his mother to nurse. Only tell her this, that I,
Paulus, gave him this wound in a moment of rage, and to forgive me if
she can, she and Petrus. And you too forgive me that in which I have
sinned against you, and if I should fall in the battle which awaits us,
pray that the Lord may not be too hard upon me in the day of judgment,
for my sins are great and many.”

At this moment the sound of the trumpets sounded even into the deepest
recess of the cave. Sirona started. “That is the Roman tuba,” she
exclaimed. “I know the sound--Phoebicius is coming this way.”

“He is doing his duty,” replied Paulus. “And still, one thing more. I
saw last night a ring on your hand--an onyx.”

“There it lies,” said Sirona; and she pointed to the farthest corner of
the cave, where it lay on the dusty soil.

“Let it remain there,” Paulus begged of her; he bent over the senseless
man once more to kiss his forehead, raised his hand towards Sirona in
sign of blessing, and rushed out into the open air.



CHAPTER XIX.

Two paths led over the mountain from the oasis to the sea; both followed
deep and stony gorges, one of which was named the “short cut,” because
the traveller reached his destination more quickly by that road than by
following the better road in the other ravine, which was practicable for
beasts of burden. Half-way up the height the “short cut” opened out on
a little plateau, whose western side was shut in by a high mass of rock
with steep and precipitous flanks. At the top of this rock stood a tower
built of rough blocks, in which the anchorites were wont to take refuge
when they were threatened with a descent of their foes.

The position of this castle--as the penitents proudly styled their
tower--was well-chosen, for from its summit they commanded not only
the “short cut” to the oasis, but also the narrow shell-strewn strip of
desert which divided the western declivity of the Holy Mountain from the
shore, the blue-green waters of the sea, and the distant chain of hills
on the African coast.

Whatever approached the tower, whether from afar or from the
neighborhood, was at once espied by them, and the side of the rock which
was turned to the roadway was so precipitous and smooth that it remained
inaccessible even to the natives of the desert, who, with their naked
feet and sinewy arms, could climb points which even the wild goat and
the jackal made a circuit to avoid. It was more accessible from the
other side, and in order to secure that, a very strong wall had been
built, which enclosed the level on which the castle stood in the form
of a horseshoe, of which the ends abutted on the declivity of the short
road. This structure was so roughly and inartistically heaped together
that it looked as if formed by nature rather than by the hand of man.
The rough and unfinished appearance of this wall-like heap of stones was
heightened by the quantity of large and small pieces of granite which
were piled on the top of it, and which had been collected by the
anchorites, in case of an incursion, to roll and hurl down on the
invading robbers. A cistern had been dug out of the rocky soil of
the plateau which the wall enclosed, and care was taken to keep it
constantly filled with water.

Such precautions were absolutely necessary, for the anchorites were
threatened with dangers from two sides. First from the Ishmaelite hordes
of Saracens who fell upon them from the east, and secondly from the
Blemmyes, the wild inhabitants of the desert country which borders
the fertile lands of Egypt and Nubia, and particularly of the barren
highlands that part the Red Sea from the Nile valley; they crossed the
sea in light skiffs, and then poured over the mountain like a swarm of
locusts.

The little stores and savings which the defenceless hermits treasured
in their caves had tempted the Blemmyes again and again, in spite of the
Roman garrison in Pharan, which usually made its appearance on the scene
of their incursion long after they had disappeared with their scanty
booty. Not many months since, the raid had been effected in which old
Stephanus had been wounded by an arrow, and there was every reason to
hope that the wild marauders would not return very soon, for Phoebicius,
the commander of the Roman maniple in the oasis, was swift and vigorous
in his office, and though he had not succeeded in protecting the
anchorites from all damage, he had followed up the Blemmyes, who fled at
his approach, and cut them off from rejoining their boats. A battle took
place between the barbarians and the Romans, not far from the coast on
the desert tract dividing the hills from the sea, which resulted in the
total annihilation of the wild tribes and gave ground to hope that such
a lesson might serve as a warning to the sons of the desert. But if
hitherto the more easily quelled promptings of covetousness had led
them to cross the sea, they were now animated by the most sacred of
all duties, by the law which required them to avenge the blood of their
fathers and brothers, and they dared to plan a fresh incursion in which
they should put forth all their resources. They were at the same time
obliged to exercise the greatest caution, and collected their forces
of young men in the valleys that lay hidden in the long range of
coast-hills.

The passage of the narrow arm of the sea that parted them from Arabia
Petraea, was to be effected in the first dark night; the sun, this
evening, had set behind heavy storm-clouds that had discharged
themselves in violent rain and had obscured the light of the waning
moon. So they drew their boats and rafts down to the sea, and,
unobserved by the sentinels on the mountain who had taken shelter from
the storm under their little penthouses, they would have reached the
opposite shore, the mountain, and perhaps even the oasis, if some one
had not warned the anchorites--and that some one was Hermas.

Obedient to the commands of Paulus, the lad had appropriated three of
his friend’s gold pieces, had provided himself with a bow and arrows and
some bread, and then, after muttering a farewell to his father who was
asleep in his cave, he set out for Raithu. Happy in the sense of his
strength and manhood, proud of the task which had been set him and which
he deemed worthy of a future soldier, and cheerfully ready to fulfil
it even at the cost of his life, he hastened forward in the bright
moonlight. He quitted the path at the spot where, to render the ascent
possible even to the vigorous desert-travellers, it took a zigzag line,
and clambered from rock to rock, up and down in a direct line; when he
came to a level spot he flew on as if pursuers were at his heels. After
sunrise he refreshed himself with a morsel of food, and then hurried on
again, not heeding the heat of noon, nor that of the soft sand in which
his foot sank as he followed the line of the sea-coast.

Thus passionately hurrying onwards he thought neither of Sirona nor
of his past life--only of the hills on the farther shore and of the
Blemmyes--how he should best surprise them, and, when he had learnt
their plans, how he might recross the sea and return to his own people.
At last, as he got more and more weary, as the heat of the sun grew
more oppressive, and as the blood rushed more painfully to his heart
and began to throb more rapidly in his temples, he lost all power
of thought, and that which dwelt in his mind was no more than a dumb
longing to reach his destination as soon as possible.

It was the third afternoon when he saw from afar the palms of Raithu,
and hurried on with revived strength. Before the sun had set he had
informed the anchorite, to whom Paulus had directed him, that the
Alexandrian declined their call, and was minded to remain on the Holy
Mountain.

Then Hermas proceeded to the little harbor, to bargain with the
fishermen of the place for the boat which he needed While he was talking
with an old Amalekite boatman, who, with his black-eyed sons, was
arranging his nets, two riders came at a quick pace towards the bay in
which a large merchant-ship lay at anchor, surrounded by little barks.
The fisherman pointed to it.

“It is waiting for the caravan from Petra,” he said. “There, on the
dromedary, is the emperor’s great warrior who commands the Romans in
Pharan.”

Hermas saw Phoebicius for the first time, and as he rode up towards him
and the fisherman he started; if he had followed his first impulse, he
would have turned and have taken to flight, but his clear eyes had met
the dull and searching glance of the centurion, and, blushing at his
own weakness, he stood still with his arms crossed, and proudly and
defiantly awaited the Gaul who with his companion came straight up to
him.

Talib had previously seen the youth by his father’s side; he recognized
him and asked how long he had been there, and if he had come direct from
the mountain. Hermas answered him as was becoming, and understood at
once that it was not he that the centurion was seeking.

Perfectly reassured and not without curiosity he looked at the
new-comer, and a smile curled his lips as he observed that the lean old
man, exhausted by his long and hurried ride, could scarcely hold himself
on his beast, and at the same time it struck him that this pitiable
old man was the husband of the blooming and youthful Sirona. Far from
feeling any remorse for his intrusion into this man’s house, he yielded
entirely to the audacious humor with which his aspect filled him, and
when Phoebicius himself asked him as to whether he had not met on
his way with a fair-haired woman and a limping greyhound, he replied,
repressing his laughter with difficulty:

“Aye, indeed! I did see such a woman and her dog, but I do not think it
was lame.”

“Where did you see her?” asked Phoebicius hastily. Hermas colored, for
he was obliged to tell an untruth, and it might be that he would do
Sirona an injury by giving false information. He therefore ventured
to give no decided answer, but enquired, “Has the woman committed some
crime that you are pursuing her?”

“A great one!” replied Talib, “she is my lord’s wife, and--”

What she has done wrong concerns me alone,’ said Phoebicius, sharply
interrupting his companion. “I hope this fellow saw better than you who
took the crying woman with a child, from Aila, for Sirona. What is your
name, boy?”

“Hermas,” answered the lad. “And who are you, pray?”

The Gaul’s lips were parted for an angry reply, but he suppressed it and
said, “I am the emperor’s centurion, and I ask you, what did the woman
look like whom you saw, and where did you meet her?”

The soldier’s fierce looks, and his captain’s words showed Hermas that
the fugitive woman had nothing good to expect if she were caught, and
as he was not in the least inclined to assist her pursuers he hastily
replied, giving the reins to his audacity, “I at any rate did not meet
the person whom you seek; the woman I saw is certainly not this man’s
wife, for she might very well be his granddaughter. She had gold hair,
and a rosy face, and the greyhound that followed her was called Iambe.”

“Where did you meet her?” shrieked the centurion.

“In the fishing-village at the foot of the mountain,” replied Hermas.
“She got into a boat, and away it went!”

“Towards the north?” asked the Gaul.

“I think so,” replied Hermas, “but I do not know, for I was in a hurry,
and could not look after her.”

“Then we will try to take her in Klysma,” cried Phoebicius to the
Amalekite. “If only there were horses in this accursed desert!”

“It is four days’ journey,” said Talib considering. “And beyond Elim
there is no water before the Wells of Moses. Certainly if we could get
good dromedaries--”

“And if,” interrupted Hermas, “it were not better that you, my lord
centurion, should not go so far from the oasis. For over there they say
that the Blemmyes are gathering, and I myself am going across as a spy
so soon as it is dark.”

Phoebicius looked down gloomily considering the matter. The news had
reached him too that the sons of the desert were preparing for a new
incursion, and he cried to Talib angrily but decidedly, as he turned
his back upon Hermas, “You must ride alone to Klysma, and try to capture
her. I cannot and will not neglect my duty for the sake of the wretched
woman.”

Hermas looked after him as he went away, and laughed out loud when he
saw him disappear into his inn. He hired a boat from the old man for his
passage across the sea for one of the gold pieces given him by Paulus,
and lying down on the nets he refreshed him self by a deep sleep of some
hours’ duration. When the moon rose he was roused in obedience to his
orders, and helped the boy who accompanied him, and who understood the
management of the sails and rudder, to push the boat, which was laid up
on the sand, down into the sea. Soon he was flying over the smooth and
glistening waters before a light wind, and he felt as fresh and strong
in spirit as a young eagle that has just left the nest, and spreads its
mighty wings for the first time. He could have shouted in his new and
delicious sense of freedom, and the boy at the stern shook his head in
astonishment when he saw Hermas wield the oars he had entrusted to him,
unskilfully it is true, but with mighty strokes.

“The wind is in our favor,” he called out to the anchorite as he hauled
round the sail with the rope in his hand, “we shall get on without your
working so hard. You may save your strength.”

“There is plenty of it, and I need not be stingy of it,” answered
Hermas, and he bent forward for another powerful stroke.

About half-way he took a rest, and admired the reflection of the moon
in the bright mirror of the water, and he could not but think of Petrus’
court-yard that had shone in the same silvery light when he had climbed
up to Sirona’s window. The image of the fair, whitearmed woman recurred
to his mind, and a melancholy longing began to creep over him.

He sighed softly, again and yet again; but as his breast heaved for
the third bitter sigh, he remembered the object of his journey and his
broken fetters, and with eager arrogance he struck the oar flat on to
the water so that it spurted high up, and sprinkled the boat and him
with a shower of wet and twinkling diamond drops. He began to work the
oars again, reflecting as he did so, that he had something better to
do than to think of a woman. Indeed, he found it easy to forget Sirona
completely, for in the next few days he went through every excitement of
a warrior’s life.

Scarcely two hours after his start from Raithu he was standing on the
soil of another continent, and, after finding a hiding-place for his
boat, he slipped off among the hills to watch the movements of the
Blemmyes. The very first day he went up to the valley in which they were
gathering; on the second, after being many times seen and pursued, he
succeeded in seizing a warrior who had been sent out to reconnoitre, and
in carrying him off with him; he bound him, and by heavy threats learned
many things from him.

The number of their collected enemies was great, but Hermas had hopes of
outstripping them, for his prisoner revealed to him the spot where their
boats, drawn up on shore, lay hidden under sand and stones.

As soon as it was dusk, the anchorite in his boat went towards the place
of embarkation, and when the Blemmyes, in the darkness of midnight, drew
their first bark into the water, Hermas sailed off ahead of the enemy,
landed in much danger below the western declivity of the mountain, and
hastened up towards Sinai to warn the Pharanite watchmen on the beacon.

He gained the top of the difficult peak before sunrise, roused the lazy
sentinels who had left their posts, and before they were able to mount
guard, to hoist the flags or to begin to sound the brazen cymbals, he
had hurried on down the valley to his father’s cave.

Since his disappearance Miriam had incessantly hovered round Stephanus’
dwelling, and had fetched fresh water for the old man every morning,
noon and evening, even after a new nurse, who was clumsier and more
peevish, had taken Paulus’ place. She lived on roots, and on the bread
the sick man gave her, and at night she lay down to sleep in a deep dry
cleft of the rock that she had long known well. She quitted her hard bed
before daybreak to refill the old man’s pitcher, and to chatter to him
about Hermas.

She was a willing servant to Stephanus because as often as she went to
him, she could hear his son’s name from his lips, and he rejoiced at her
coming because she always gave him the opportunity of talking of Hermas.

For many weeks the sick man had been so accustomed to let himself be
waited on that he accepted the shepherdess’s good offices as a matter of
course, and she never attempted to account to herself for her readiness
to serve him. Stephanus would have suffered in dispensing with her, and
to her, her visits to the well and her conversations with the old man
had become a need, nay a necessity, for she still was ignorant
whether Hermas was yet alive, or whether Phoebicius had killed him in
consequence of her betrayal. Perhaps all that Stephanus told her of his
son’s journey of investigation was an invention of Paulus to spare the
sick man, and accustom him gradually to the loss of his child; and yet
she was only too willing to believe that Hermas still lived, and she
quitted the neighborhood of the cave as late as possible, and filled
the sick man’s water-jar before the sun was up, only because she said to
herself that the fugitive on his return would seek no one else so soon
as his father.

She had not one really quiet moment, for if a falling stone, an
approaching footstep, or the cry of a beast broke the stillness of the
desert she at once hid herself, and listened with a beating heart; much
less from fear of Petrus her master, from whom she had run away, than
in the expectation of hearing the step of the man whom she had betrayed
into the hand of his enemy, and for whom she nevertheless painfully
longed day and night.

As often as she lingered by the spring she wetted her stubborn hair to
smooth it, and washed her face with as much zeal as if she thought she
should succeed in washing the dark hue out of her skin. And all this she
did for him, that on his return she might charm him as much as the
white woman in the oasis, whom she hated as fiercely as she loved him
passionately.

During the heavy storm of last night a torrent from the mountain-height
had shed itself into her retreat and had driven her out of it. Wet
through, shelterless, tormented by remorse, fear and longing, she had
clambered from stone to stone, and sought refuge and peace under first
one rock and then another; thus she had been attracted by the glimmer
of light that shone out of the new dwelling of the pious Paulus; she had
seen and recognized the Alexandrian, but he had not observed her as he
cowered on the ground near his hearth deeply sunk in thought.

She knew now where the excommunicated man dwelt after whom Stephanus
often asked, and she had gathered from the old man’s lamentations and
dark hints, that Paulus too had been ensnared and brought to ruin by her
enemy.

As the morning-star began to pale Miriam went up to Stephanus’ cave; her
heart was full of tears, and yet she was unable to pour out her need and
suffering in a soothing flood of weeping; she was wholly possessed
with a wild desire to sink down on the earth there and die, and to be
released by death from her relentless, driving torment. But it was still
too early to disturb the old man--and yet--she must hear a human voice,
one word--even if it were a hard word--from the lips of a human being;
for the bewildering feeling of distraction which confused her mind, and
the misery of abandonment that crushed her heart, were all too cruelly
painful to be borne.

She was standing by the entrance to the cave when, high above her
head, she heard the falling of stones and the cry of a human voice.
She started and listened with out-stretched neck and strung sinews,
motionless. Then she broke suddenly into a loud and piercing shout
of joy, and flinging up her arms she flew up the mountain towards a
traveller who came swiftly down to meet her.

“Hermas! Hermas!” she shouted, and all the sunny delight of her heart
was reflected in her cry so clearly and purely that the sympathetic
chords in the young man’s soul echoed the sound, and he hailed her with
joyful welcome.

He had never before greeted her thus, and the tone of his voice revived
her poor crushed heart like a restorative draught offered by a tender
hand to the lips of the dying. Exquisite delight, and a glow of
gratitude such as she had never before felt flooded her soul, and as
he was so good to her she longed to show him that she had something to
offer in return for the gift of friendship which he offered her. So
the first thing she said to him was, “I have staid constantly near
your father, and have brought him water early and late, as much as he
needed.”

She blushed as she thus for the first time praised herself to him, but
Hermas exclaimed, “That is a good girl! and I will not forget it. You
are a wild, silly thing, but I believe that you are to be relied on by
those to whom you feel kindly.”

“Only try me,” cried Miriam holding out her hand to him. He took it, and
as they went on together he said:

“Do you hear the brass? I have warned the watchmen up there; the
Blemmyes are coming. Is Paulus with my father?”

“No, but I know where he is.”

“Then you must call him,” said the young man. “Him first and then
Gelasius, and Psoes, and Dulas, and any more of the penitents that you
can find. They must all go to the castle by the ravine. Now I will go
to my father; you hurry on and show that you are to be trusted.” As he
spoke he put his arm round her waist, but she slipped shyly away, and
calling out, “I will take them all the message,” she hurried off.

In front of the cave where she had hoped to meet with Paulus she found
Sirona; she did not stop with her, but contented herself with laughing
wildly and calling out words of abuse.

Guided by the idea that she should find the Alexandrian at the nearest
well, she went on and called him, then hurrying on from cave to cave she
delivered her message in Hermas’ name, happy to serve him.



CHAPTER XX.

They were all collected behind the rough wall on the edge of the
ravine-the strange men who had turned their back on life with all its
joys and pails, its duties and its delights, on the community and family
to which they belonged, and had fled to the desert, there to strive for
a prize above and beyond this life, when they had of their own free-will
renounced all other effort. In the voiceless desert, far from the
enticing echoes of the world, it might be easy to kill every sensual
impulse, to throw off the fetters of the world, and so bring that
humanity, which was bound to the dust through sin and the flesh, nearer
to the pure and incorporate being of the Divinity.

All these men were Christians, and, like the Saviour who had freely
taken torments upon Himself to become the Redeemer, they too sought
through the purifying power of suffering to free themselves from the
dross of their impure human nature, and by severe penance to contribute
their share of atonement for their own guilt, and for that of all their
race. No fear of persecution had driven them into the desert--nothing
but the hope of gaining the hardest of victories.

All the anchorites who had been summoned to the tower were Egyptians and
Syrians, and among the former particularly there were many who, being
already inured to abstinence and penance in the service of the old gods
in their own country, now as Christians had selected as the scene of
their pious exercises the very spot where the Lord must have revealed
Himself to his elect.

At a later date not merely Sinai itself but the whole tract of Arabia
Petraea--through which, as it was said, the Jews at their exodus under
Moses had wandered--was peopled with ascetics of like mind, who gave to
their settlements the names of the resting-places of the chosen people,
as mentioned in the Scriptures; but as yet there was no connection
between the individual penitents, no order ruled their lives; they might
still be counted by tens, though ere long they numbered hundreds and
thousands.

The threat of danger had brought all these contemners of the world and
of life in stormy haste to the shelter of the tower, in spite of their
readiness to die. Only old Kosmas, who had withdrawn to the desert with
his wife--she had found a grave there--had remained in his cave, and
had declared to Gelasius, who shared his cave and who had urged him to
flight, that he was content in whatever place or whatever hour the Lord
should call him, and that it was in God’s hands to decide whether old
age or an arrow-shot should open to him the gates of heaven.

It was quite otherwise with the rest of the anchorites, who rushed
through the narrow door of the watchtower and into its inner room till
it was filled to overflowing, and Paulus, who in the presence of danger
had fully recovered his equanimity, was obliged to refuse admission to
a new-comer in order to preserve the closely packed and trembling crowd
from injury.

No murrain passes from beast to beast, no mildew from fruit to fruit
with such rapidity as fear spreads from man to man. Those who had been
driven by the sharpest lashings of terror had run the fastest, and
reached the castle first. They had received those who followed them with
lamentation and outcries, and it was a pitiable sight to see how the
terrified crowd, in the midst of their loud declarations of resignation
to God’s guidance and their pious prayers, wrung their hands, and at the
same time how painfully anxious each one was to hide the little property
he had saved first from the disapproval of his companions, and then from
the covetousness of the approaching enemy.

With Paulus came Sergius and Jeremias to whom, on the way, he had
spoken words of encouragement. All three did their utmost to revive the
confidence of the terrified men, and when the Alexandrian reminded them
how zealously each of them only a few weeks since had helped to roll the
blocks and stones from the wall, and down the precipice, so as to crush
and slay the advancing enemy the feeling was strong in many of them
that, as he had already proved himself worthy in defence, it was due to
him now to make him their leader.

The number of the men who rushed out of the tower was increasing, and
when Hermas appeared with his father on his back and followed by Miriam,
and when Paulus exhorted his companions to be edified by this pathetic
picture of filial love, curiosity tempted even the last loiterers in the
tower out into the open space.

The Alexandrian sprang over the wall, went up to Stephanus, lifted him
from the shoulders of the panting youth and, taking him on his own,
carried him towards the tower; but the old warrior refused to enter
the place of refuge, and begged his friend to lay him down by the wall.
Paulus obeyed his wish and then went with Hermas to the top of the tower
to spy the distance from thence.

As soon as he had quitted him, Stephanus turned to the anchorites who
stood near him, saying, “These stones are loose, and though my strength
is indeed small still it is great enough to send one of them over with
a push. If it comes to a battle my old soldier’s eyes, dim as they are
now, may with the help of yours see many things that may be useful to
you young ones. Above all things, if the game is to be a hot one for the
robbers, one must command here whom the others will obey.”

“It shall be you, father,” interrupted Salathiel the Syrian. “You have
served in Caesar’s army, and you proved your courage and knowledge of
war in the last raid. You shall command us.”

Stephanus sadly shook his head and replied, “My voice is become too
weak and low since this wound in my breast and my long illness. Not
even those who stand nearest to me would understand me in the noise
of battle. Let Paulus be your captain, for he is strong, cautious and
brave.”

Many of the anchorites had long looked upon the Alexandrian as their
best stay; for many years he had enjoyed the respect of all and on a
thousand occasions had given proof of his strength and presence of mind,
but at this proposal they looked at each other in surprise, doubt and
disapproval.

Stephanus saw what was passing in their minds.

“It is true he has erred gravely,” he said. “And before God he is the
least of the least among us; but in animal strength and indomitable
courage he is superior to you all. Which of you would be willing to take
his place, if you reject his guidance.”

“Orion the Saite,” cried one of the anchorites, “is tall and strong. If
he would--”

But Orion eagerly excused himself from assuming the dangerous office,
and when Andreas and Joseph also refused with no less decision the
leadership that was offered them, Stephanus said:

“You see there is no choice left us but to be, the Alexandrian to
command us here so long as the robbers threaten us, and no longer. There
he comes--shall I ask him?”

A murmur of consent, though by no means of satisfaction, answered the
old man, and Paulus, quite carried away by his eagerness to stake
his life and blood for the protection of the weak, and fevered with a
soldier’s ardor, accepted Stephanus’ commission as a matter of course,
and set to work like a general to organize the helpless wearers of
sheepskin.

Some he sent to the top of the tower to keep watch, others he charged
with the transport of the stones; to a third party he entrusted the duty
of hurling pieces of rock and blocks of stone down into the abyss in
the moment of danger; he requested the weaker brethren to assemble
themselves together, to pray for the others and to sing hymns of praise,
and he concerted signs and passwords with all; he was now here, now
there, and his energy and confidence infused themselves even into the
faint-hearted.

In the midst of these arrangements Hermas took leave of him and of his
father, for he heard the Roman war-trumpets and the drums of the young
manhood of Pharan, as they marched through the short cut to meet
the enemy. He knew where the main strength of the Blemmyes lay and
communicated this knowledge to the Centurion Phoebicius and the captain
of the Pharanites. The Gaul put a few short questions to Hermas, whom he
recognized immediately, for since he had met him at the harbor of Raithu
he could not forget his eyes, which reminded him of those of Glycera;
and after receiving his hasty and decided answers he issued rapid and
prudent orders.

A third of the Pharanites were to march forward against the enemy,
drumming and trumpeting, and then retreat as far as the watch-tower as
the enemy approached over the plain. If the Blemmyes allowed themselves
to be tempted thither, a second third of the warriors of the oasis, that
could easily be in ambush in a cross-valley, were to fall on their left
flank, while Phoebicius and his maniple--hidden behind the rock on which
the castle stood--would suddenly rush out and so decide the battle.
The last third of the Pharanites had orders to destroy the ships of the
invaders under the command of Hermas, who knew the spot where they had
landed.

In the worst case the centurion and his men could retreat into the
castle, and there defend themselves till the warriors of the nearest
seaports--whither messengers were already on their way--should come to
the rescue.

The Gaul’s orders were immediately obeyed, and Hermas walked at the head
of the division entrusted to him, as proud and as self-possessed as any
of Caesar’s veterans leading his legion into the field. He carried a bow
and arrows at his back, and in his hand a battleaxe that he had bought
at Raithu.

Miriam attempted to follow the troops he was leading, but he observed
her, and called out, “Go up to the fort, child, to my father.” And the
shepherdess obeyed without hesitation.

The anchorites had all crowded to the edge of the precipice, they looked
at the division of the forces, and signed and shouted down. They had
hoped that some part of the fighting men would be joined to them for
their defence, but, as they soon learned, they had hoped in vain.
Stephanus, whose feeble sight could not reach so far as the plain at the
foot of the declivity, made Paulus report to him all that was going
on there, and with the keen insight of a soldier he comprehended the
centurion’s plan. The troop led by Hermas passed by below the tower,
and the youth waved and shouted a greeting up to his father. Stephanus,
whose hearing remained sharper than his sight, recognized his son’s
voice and took leave of him with tender and loving words in as loud a
voice as he could command. Paulus collected all the overflow of the old
man’s heart in one sentence, and called out his blessings through his
two hands as a speaking-trumpet, after his friend’s son as he departed
to battle. Hermas understood; but deeply as he was touched by this
farewell he answered only by dumb signs. A father can find a hundred
words of blessing sooner than a son can find one of thanks.

As the youth disappeared behind the rocks, Paulus said, “He marches on
like an experienced soldier, and the others follow him as sheep follow
a ram. But hark!--Certainly--the foremost division of the Pharanites and
the enemy have met. The outcry comes nearer and nearer.”

“Then all will be well,” cried Stephanus excitedly. “If they only take
the bait and let themselves be drawn on to the plateau I think they are
lost. From here we can watch the whole progress of the battle, and
if our side are driven back it may easily happen that they will throw
themselves into the castle. Now not a pebble must be thrown in vain,
for if our tower becomes the central point of the struggle the defenders
will need stones to fling.”

These words were heard by several of the anchorites, and as now the
war-cries and the noise of the fight came nearer and nearer, and one and
another repeated to each other that their place of refuge would, become
the centre of the combat, the frightened penitents quitted the posts
assigned to them by Paulus, ran hither and thither in spite of the
Alexandrian’s severe prohibition, and most of them at last joined
the company of the old and feeble, whose psalms grew more and more
lamentable as danger pressed closer upon them.

Loudest of all was the wailing of the Saite Orion who cried with
uplifted bands, “What wilt Thou of us miserable creatures, O Lord? When
Moses left Thy chosen people on this very spot for only forty days, they
at once fell away from Thee; and we, we without any leader have spent
all our life in Thy service, and have given up all that can rejoice the
heart, and have taken every kind of suffering upon us to please Thee!
and now these hideous heathen are surging round us again, and will
kill us. Is this the reward of victory for our striving and our long
wrestling?”

The rest joined in the lamentation of the Saite, but Paulus stepped into
their midst, blamed them for their cowardice, and with warm and urgent
speech implored them to return to their posts so that the wall might be
guarded at least on the eastern and more accessible side, and that the
castle might not fall an easy prey into the hands of an enemy from
whom no quarter was to be expected. Some of the anchorites were already
proceeding to obey the Alexandrian’s injunction, when a fearful cry, the
war-cry of the Blemmyes who were in pursuit of the Pharanites, rose from
the foot of their rock of refuge.

They crowded together again in terror; Salathiel the Syrian, had
ventured to the edge of the abyss, and had looked over old Stephanus’
shoulder down into the hollow, and when he rushed back to his
companions, crying in terror, “Our men are flying!”

Gelasius shrieked aloud, beat his breast, and tore his rough black hair,
crying out:

“O Lord God, what wilt Thou of us? Is it vain then to strive after
righteousness and virtue that Thou givest us over unto death, and dost
not fight for us? If we are overcome by the heathen, ungodliness and
brute force will boast themselves as though they had won the victory
over righteousness and truth!”

Paulus had turned from the lamenting hermits, perplexed and beside
himself, and stood with Stephanus watching the fight.

The Blemmyes had come in great numbers, and their attack, before which
the Pharanites were to have retired as a feint, fell with such force
upon the foremost division that they and their comrades, who had rushed
to their aid on the plateau, were unable to resist it, and were driven
back as far as the spot where the ravine narrowed.

“Things are not as they should be,” said Stephanus. “And the cowardly
band, like a drove of cattle,” cried Paulus in a fury, “leave the walls
unprotected, and blaspheme God instead of watching or fighting.”

The anchorites noticed his gestures, which were indeed those of a
desperate man, and Sergius exclaimed: “Are we then wholly abandoned? Why
does not the thorn-bush light its fires, and destroy the evil-doers with
its flames? Why is the thunder silent, and where are the lightnings that
played round the peak of Sinai?

“Why does not darkness fall upon us to affright the heathen? Why does
not the earth open her mouth to swallow them up like the company of
Korah?”

“The Might of God,” cried Dulas, “tarries too long. The Lord must
set our piety in a doubtful light, for He treats us as though we were
unworthy of all care.”

“And that you are!” exclaimed Paulus, who had heard the last words,
and who was dragging rather than leading the feeble Stephanus to the
unguarded eastern wall. “That you are, for instead of resisting His
enemies you blaspheme God, and disgrace yourself by your miserable
cowardice. Look at this sick old man who is prepared to defend you, and
obey my orders without a murmur, or, by the holy martyrs, I will drag
you to your posts by your hair and ears, and will--”

But he ceased speaking, for his threats were interrupted by a powerful
voice which called his name from the foot of the wall.

“That is Agapitus,” exclaimed Stephanus. “Lead me to the wall, and set
me down there.”

Before Paulus could accede to his friend’s wish the tall form of the
bishop was standing by his side. Agapitus the Cappadocian had in his
youth been a warrior; he had hardly passed the limits of middle age, and
was a vigilant captain of his congregation. When all the youth of Pharan
had gone forth to meet the Blemmyes, he had no peace in the oasis, and,
after enjoining on the presbyters and deacons that they should pray in
the church for the fighting men with the women and the men who remained
behind, he himself, accompanied by a guide and two acolytes, had gone up
the mountain to witness the battle.

To the other priests and his wife who sought to detain him, he had
answered, “Where the flock is there should the shepherd be!”

Unseen and unheard he had gained the castle-wall and had been a witness
to Paulus’ vehement speech. He now stood opposite the Alexandrian with
rolling eyes, and threateningly lifted his powerful hand as he called
out to him:

“And dare an outcast speak thus to his brethren? Will the champion of
Satan give orders to the soldiers of the Lord? It would indeed be a joy
to you if by your strong arm you could win back the good name that your
soul, crippled by sin and guilt, has flung away. Come on, my friends!
the Lord is with us and will help us.”

Paulus had let the bishop’s words pass over him in silence, and raised
his hands like the other anchorites when Agapitus stepped into their
midst, and uttered a short and urgent prayer.

After the “Amen” the bishop pointed out, like a general, to each man,
even to the feeble and aged, his place by the wall or behind the stones
for throwing, and then cried out with a clear ringing voice that sounded
above all other noise, “Show to-day that you are indeed soldiers of the
Most High.”

Not one rebelled, and when man by man each had placed himself at his
post, he went to the precipice and looked attentively down at the fight
that was raging below.

The Pharanites were now opposing the attack of the Blemmyes with
success, for Phoebicius, rushing forward with his men from their ambush,
had fallen upon the compact mass of the sons of the desert in flank
and, spreading death and ruin, had divided them into two bodies. The
well-trained and well-armed Romans seemed to have an easy task with
their naked opponents, who, in a hand to hand fight, could not avail
themselves of either their arrows or their spears. But the Blemmyes
had learned to use their strength in frequent battles with the imperial
troops, and so soon as they perceived that they were no match for their
enemies in pitched battle, their leaders set up a strange shrill cry,
their ranks dissolved, and they dispersed in all directions, like a heap
of feathers strewn by a gust of wind.

Agapitus took the hasty disappearance of the enemy for wild flight,
he sighed deeply and thankfully and turned to go down to the field of
battle, and to speak consolation to his wounded fellow-Christians.

But in the castle itself he found opportunity for exercising his
pious office, for before him stood the shepherdess whom he had already
observed on his arrival and she said with much embarrassment, but
clearly and quickly, “Old Stephanus there, my lord bishop--Hermas’
father for whom I carry water-bids me ask you to come to him; for his
wound has reopened and he thinks his end is near.”

Agapitus immediately obeyed this call; he went with hasty steps towards
the sick man, whose wound Paulus and Orion had already bound up, and
greeted him with a familiarity that he was far from showing to the other
penitents. He had long known the former name and the fate of Stephanus,
and it was by his advice that Hermas had been obliged to join the
deputation sent to Alexandria, for Agapitus was of opinion that no one
ought to flee from the battle of life without having first taken some
part in it.

Stephanus put out his hand to the bishop who sat down beside him, signed
to the bystanders to leave them alone, and listened attentively to the
feeble words of the sufferer. When he had ceased speaking, Agapitus
said:

“I praise the Lord with you for having permitted your lost wife to find
the ways that lead to Him, and your son will be--as you were once--a
valiant man of war. Your earthly house is set in order, but are you
prepared for the other, the everlasting mansion?”

“For eighteen years I have done penance, and prayed, and borne great
sufferings,” answered the sick man. “The world lies far behind me, and I
hope I am walking in the path that leads to heaven.”

“So do I hope for you and for your soul,” said the bishop. “That which
it is hardest to endure has fallen to your lot in this world, but have
you striven to forgive those who did you the bitterest wrong, and can
you pray, ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive them that sin against us?’
Do you remember the words, ‘If ye forgive men their trespasses your
heavenly father will also forgive you?’”

“Not only have I pardoned Glycera,” answered Stephanus, “but I have
taken her again into my heart of hearts; but the man who basely seduced
her, the wretch, who although I had done him a thousand benefits,
betrayed me, robbed me and dishonored me, I wish him--”

“Forgive him,” cried Agapitus, “as you would be forgiven.”

“I have striven these eighteen years to bless my enemy,” replied
Stephanus, “and I will still continue to strive--”

Up to this moment the bishop had devoted his whole attention to the sick
anchorite, but he was now called on all sides at once, and Gelasius, who
was standing by the declivity with some other anchorites, called out to
him, “Father--save us--the heathen there are climbing up the rocks.”

Agapitus signed a blessing over Stephanus and then turned away from him,
saying earnestly once more, “Forgive, and heaven is open to you.”

Many wounded and dead lay on the plain, and the Pharanites were
retreating into the ravine, for the Blemmyes had not indeed fled, but
had only dispersed themselves, and then had climbed up the rocks which
hemmed in the level ground and shot their arrows at their enemies from
thence.

“Where are the Romans?” Agapitus eagerly enquired of Orion.

“They are withdrawing into the gorge through which the road leads up
here,” answered the Saite. “But look! only look at these heathen! The
Lord be merciful to us! they are climbing up the cliffs like woodpeckers
up a tree.”

“The stones, fly to the stones!” cried Agapitus with flashing eyes to
the anchorites that stood by. “What is going on behind the wall
there? Do you hear? Yes that is the Roman tuba. Courage, brethren! the
emperor’s soldiers are guarding the weakest side of the castle. But look
here at the naked figures in the cleft. Bring the blocks here; set your
shoulders stoutly to it, Orion! one more push, Salathiel! There it goes,
it crashes down if only it does not stick in the rift! No! thank God,
it has bounded off-that was a leap! Well done--there were six enemies of
the Lord destroyed at once.”

“I see three more yonder,” cried Orion. “Come here, Damianus, and help
me.”

The man he called rushed forward with several others, and the first
success raised the courage of the anchorites so rapidly and wonderfully
that the bishop soon found it difficult to restrain their zeal, and to
persuade them to be sparing with the precious missiles.

While, under the direction of Agapitus stone after stone was hurled
clattering over the steep precipice down upon the Blemmyes, Paulus sat
by the sick man, looking at the ground.

“You are not helping them?” asked Stephanus. “Agapitus is right,”
 replied the Alexandrian. “I have much to expiate, and fighting brings
enjoyment. How great enjoyment I can understand by the torture it is to
me to sit still. The bishop blessed you affectionately.”

“I am near the goal,” sighed Stephanus, “and he promises me the joys
of heaven if I only forgive him who stole my wife from me. He is
forgiven-yes, all is forgiven him, and may everything that he undertakes
turn to good; yea, and nothing turn to evil--only feel how my heart
throbs, it is rallying its strength once more before it utterly ceases
to beat. When it is all over repeat to Hermas everything that I have
told you, and bless him a thousand, thousand times in my name and his
mother’s; but never, never tell him that in an hour of weakness she
ran away with that villain--that man, that miserable man I mean--whom
I forgive. Give Hermas this ring, and with it the letter that you will
find under the dry herbs on the couch in my cave; they will secure him a
reception from his uncle, who will also procure him a place in the army,
for my brother is in high favor with Caesar. Only listen how Agapitus
urges on our men; they are fighting bravely there; that is the Roman
tuba. Attend to me--the maniple will occupy the castle and shoot down
on the heathen from hence; when they come carry me into the tower. I am
weak and would fain collect my thoughts, and pray once more that I may
find strength to forgive the man not with my lips only.”

“Down there see--there come the Romans,” cried Paulus interrupting him.
“Here, up here!” he called down to the men, “The steps are more to the
left.”

“Here we are,” answered a sharp voice. “You stay there, you people, on
that projection of rock, and keep your eye on the castle. If any danger
threatens call me with the trumpet. I will climb up, and from the top of
the tower there I can see where the dogs come from.”

During this speech Stephanus had looked down and listened; when a
few minutes later the Gaul reached the wall and called out to the men
inside, “Is there no one there who will give me a hand?” he turned to
Paulus, saying, “Lift me up and support me--quick!”

With an agility that astonished the Alexandrian, Stephanus stood upon
his feet, leaned over the wall towards the centurion--who had climbed
as far as the outer foot of it, looked him in the face with eager
attention, shuddered violently, and repressing his feelings with the
utmost effort offered him his lean hand to help him.

“Servianus!” cried the centurion, who was greatly shocked by such
a meeting and in such a place, and who, struggling painfully for
composure, stared first at the old man and then at Paulus.

Not one of the three succeeded in uttering a word; but Stephanus’ eyes
were fixed on the Gaul’s features, and the longer he looked at him the
hollower grew his cheeks and the paler his lips; at the same time he
still held out his hand to the other, perhaps in token of forgiveness.

So passed a long minute. Then Phoebicius recollected that he had climbed
the wall in the emperor’s service, and stamping with impatience at
himself he took the old man’s hand in a hasty grasp. But scarcely had
Stephanus felt the touch of the Gaul’s fingers when he started as struck
by lightning, and flung himself with a hoarse cry on his enemy who was
hanging on the edge of the wall.

Paulus gazed in horror at the frightful scene, and cried aloud with
fervent unction, “Let him go--forgive that heaven may forgive you.”

“Heaven! what is heaven, what is forgiveness!” screamed the old man.
“He shall be damned.” Before the Alexandrian could hinder him, the loose
stone over which the enemies were wrestling in breathless combat gave
way, and both were hurled into the abyss with the falling rock.

Paulus groaned from the lowest depth of his breast and murmured while
the tears ran down his cheeks, “He too has fought the fight, and he too
has striven in vain.”



CHAPTER XXI.

The fight was ended; the sun as it went to its rest behind the Holy
Mountain had lighted many corpses of Blemmyes, and now the stars shone
down on the oasis from the clear sky.

Hymns of praise sounded out of the church, and near it, under the hill
against which it was built, torches were blazing and threw their ruddy
light on a row of biers, on which under green palm-branches lay the
heroes who had fallen in the battle against the Blemmyes. Now the
hymn ceased, the gates of the house of God opened and Agapitus led his
followers towards the dead. The congregation gathered in a half-circle
round their peaceful brethren, and heard the blessing that their pastor
pronounced over the noble victims who had shed their blood in fighting
the heathen. When it was ended those who in life had been their nearest
and dearest went up to the dead, and many tears fell into the sand from
the eye of a mother or a wife, many a sigh went up to heaven from a
father’s breast. Next to the bier, on which old Stephanus was resting,
stood another and a smaller one, and between the two Hermas knelt and
wept. He raised his face, for a deep and kindly voice spoke his name.

“Petrus,” said the lad, clasping the hand that the senator held out
to him, “I felt forced and driven out into the world, and away from my
father--and now he is gone for ever how gladly I would have been kept by
him.”

“He died a noble death, in battle for those he loved,” said the senator
consolingly,

“Paulus was near him when he fell,” replied Hermas. “My father fell
from the wall while defending the tower; but look here this girl--poor
child--who used to keep your goats, died like a heroine. Poor, wild
Miriam, how kind I would be to you if only you were alive now!”

Hermas as he spoke stroked the arm of the shepherdess, pressed a kiss
on her small, cold hand, and softly folded it with the other across her
bosom.

“How did the girl get into the battle with the men?” asked Petrus. “But
you can tell me that in my own house. Come and be our guest as long as
it pleases you, and until you go forth into the world; thanks are due to
you from us all.”

Hermas blushed and modestly declined the praises which were showered
on him on all sides as the savior of the oasis. When the wailing women
appeared he knelt once more at the head of his father’s bier, cast a
last loving look at Miriam’s peaceful face, and then followed his host.

The man and boy crossed the court together. Hermas involuntarily glanced
up at the window where more than once he had seen Sirona, and said, as
he pointed to the centurion’s house, “He too fell.”

Petrus nodded and opened the door of his house. In the hall, which was
lighted up, Dorothea came hastily to meet him, asking, “No news yet of
Polykarp?”

Her husband shook his head, and she added, “How indeed is it possible?
He will write at the soonest from Klysma or perhaps even from
Alexandria.”

“That is just what I think,” replied Petrus, looking down to the ground.
Then he turned to Hermas and introduced him to his wife.

Dorothea received the young man with warm sympathy; she had heard
that his father had fallen in the fight, and how nobly he too had
distinguished himself. Supper was ready, and Hermas was invited to share
it. The mistress gave her daughter a sign to make preparations for
their guest, but Petrus detained Marthana, and said, “Hermas may fill
Antonius’ place; he has still something to do with some of the workmen.
Where are Jethro and the house-slaves?”

“They have already eaten,” said Dorothea.

The husband and wife looked at each other, and Petrus said with a
melancholy smile, “I believe they are up on the mountain.”

Dorothea wiped a tear from her eye as she replied, “They will meet
Antonius there. If only they could find Polykarp! And yet I honestly
say--not merely to comfort you--it is most probable that he has not met
with any accident in the mountain gorges, but has gone to Alexandria to
escape the memories that follow him here at every step--Was not that the
gate?”

She rose quickly and looked into the court, while Petrus, who had
followed her, did the same, saying with a deep sigh, as he turned to
Marthana--who, while she offered meat and bread to Hermas was watching
her parents--“It was only the slave Anubis.”

For some time a painful silence reigned round the large table, to-day so
sparely furnished with guests.

At last Petrus turned to his guest and said, “You were to tell me how
the shepherdess Miriam lost her life in the struggle. She had run away
from our house--”

“Up the mountain,” added Hermas. “She supplied my poor father with water
like a daughter.”

“You see, mother,” interrupted Marthana, “she was not bad-hearted--I
always said so.”

“This morning,” continued Hermas, nodding in sad assent to the maiden,
“she followed my father to the castle, and immediately after his fall,
Paulus told me, she rushed away from it, but only to seek me and to
bring me the sad news. We had known each other a long time, for years
she had watered her goats at our well, and while I was still quite a boy
and she a little girl, she would listen for hours when I played on my
willow pipe the songs which Paulus had taught me. As long as I played
she was perfectly quiet, and when I ceased she wanted to hear more and
still more, until I had too much of it and went away. Then she would
grow angry, and if I would not do her will she would scold me with bad
words. But she always came again, and as I had no other companion
and she was the only creature who cared to listen to me, I was very
well-content that she should prefer our well to all the others. Then we
grew order and I began to be afraid of her, for she would talk in such a
godless way--and she even died a heathen. Paulus, who once overheard us,
warned me against her, and as I had long thrown away the pipe and hunted
beasts with my bow and arrow whenever my father would let me, I was with
her for shorter intervals when I went to the well to draw water, and we
became more and more strangers; indeed, I could be quite hard to her.
Only once after I came back from the capital something happened--but
that I need not tell you. The poor child was so unhappy at being a slave
and no doubt had first seen the light in a free-house.

“She was fond of me, more than a sister is of a brother--and when my
father was dead she felt that I ought not to learn the news from any one
but herself. She had seen which way I had gone with the Pharanites and
followed me up, and she soon found me, for she had the eyes of a gazelle
and the ears of a startled bird. It was not this time difficult to find
me, for when she sought me we were fighting with the Blemmyes in the
green hollow that leads from the mountain to the sea. They roared with
fury like wild beasts, for before we could get to the sea the fishermen
in the little town below had discovered their boats, which they had
hidden under sand and stones, and had carried them off to their harbor.
The boy from Raithu who accompanied me, had by my orders kept them in
sight, and had led the fishermen to the hiding-place. The watchmen whom
they had left with the boats had fled, and had reached their companions
who were fighting round the castle; and at least two hundred of them had
been sent back to the shore to recover possession of the boats and to
punish the fishermen. This troop met us in the green valley, and there
we fell to fighting.

“The Blemmyes outnumbered us; they soon surrounded us before and behind,
on the right side and on the left, for they jumped and climbed from rock
to rock like mountain goats and then shot down their reed-arrows from
above. Three or four touched me, and one pierced my hair and remained
hanging in it with the feather at the end of the shaft.

“How the battle went elsewhere I cannot tell you, for the blood mounted
to my head, and I was only conscious that I myself snorted and shouted
like a madman and wrestled with the heathen now here and now there, and
more than once lifted my axe to cleave a skull. At the same time I saw a
part of our men turn to fly, and I called them back with furious words;
then they turned round and followed me again.

“Once, in the midst of the struggle, I saw Miriam too, clinging pale
and trembling to a rock and looking on at the fight. I shouted to her to
leave the spot, and go back to my father, but she stood still and shook
her head with a gesture--a gesture so full of pity and anguish--I shall
never forget it. With hands and eyes she signed to me that my father
was dead, and I understood; at least I understood that some dreadful
misfortune had happened. I had no time for reflection, for before I
could gain any certain information by word of mouth, a captain of the
heathen had seized me, and we came to a life and death struggle before
Miriam’s very eyes. My opponent was strong, but I showed the girl--who
had often taunted me for being a weakling because I obeyed my father in
everything--that I need yield to no one. I could not have borne to be
vanquished before her and I flung the heathen to the ground and slew him
with my axe. I was only vaguely conscious of her presence, for during
my severe struggle I could see nothing but my adversary. But suddenly I
heard a loud scream, and Miriam sank bleeding close before me. While I
was kneeling over his comrade one of the Blemmyes had crept up to
me, and had flung his lance at me from a few paces off. But
Miriam--Miriam--”

“She saved you at the cost of her own life,” said Petrus completing the
lad’s sentence, for at the recollection of the occurrence his voice had
failed and his eyes overflowed with tears.

Hermas nodded assent, and then added softly: “She threw up her arms
and called my name as the spear struck her. The eldest son of Obedianus
punished the heathen that had done it, and I supported her as she fell
dying and took her curly head on my knees and spoke her name; she
opened her eyes once more, and spoke mine softly and with indescribable
tenderness. I had never thought that wild Miriam could speak so sweetly,
I was overcome with terrible grief, and kissed her eyes and her lips.
She looked at me once more with a long, wide-open, blissful gaze, and
then she was dead.”

“She was a heathen,” said Dorothea, drying her eyes, “but for such a
death the Lord will forgive her much.”

“I loved her dearly,” said Marthana, “and will lay my sweetest flowers
on her grave. May I cut some sprays from your blooming myrtle for a
wreath?”

“To-morrow, to-morrow, my child,” replied Dorothea. “Now go to rest; it
is already very late.”

“Only let me stay till Antonius and Jethro come back,” begged the girl.

“I would willingly help you to find your son,” said Hermas, “and if you
wish I will go to Raithu and Klysma, and enquire among the fishermen.
Had the centurion--” and as he spoke the young soldier looked down in
some embarrassment, “had the centurion found his fugitive wife of whom
he was in pursuit with Talib, the Amalekite, before he died?”

“Sirona has not yet reappeared,” replied Petrus, “and perhaps--but just
now you mentioned the name of Paulus, who was so dear to you and
your father. Do you know that it was he who so shamelessly ruined the
domestic peace of the centurion?”

“Paulus!” cried Hermas. “How can you believe it?”

“Phoebicius found his sheepskin in his wife’s room,” replied Petrus
gravely. “And the impudent Alexandrian recognized it as his own before
us all and allowed the Gaul to punish him. He committed the disgraceful
deed the very evening that you were sent off to gain intelligence.”

“And Phoebicius flogged him?” cried Hermas beside himself. “And the poor
fellow bore this disgrace and your blame, and all--all for my sake. Now
I understand what he meant! I met him after the battle and he told me
that my father was dead. When he parted from me, he said he was of all
sinners the greatest, and that I should hear it said down in the oasis.
But I know better; he is great-hearted and good, and I will not bear
that he should be disgraced and slandered for my sake.” Hermas had
sprung up with these words, and as he met the astonished gaze of his
hosts, he tried to collect himself, and said:

“Paulus never even saw Sirona, and I repeat it, if there is a man who
may boast of being good and pure and quite without sin, it is he. For
me, and to save me from punishment and my father from sorrow, he owned
a sin that he never committed. Such a deed is just like him--the
brave--faithful friend! But such shameful suspicion and disgrace shall
not weigh upon him a moment longer!”

“You are speaking to an older man,” said Petrus angrily interrupting the
youth’s vehement speech. “Your friend acknowledged with his own lips--”

“Then he told a lie out of pure goodness,” Hermas insisted. “The
sheepskin that the Gaul found was mine. I had gone to Sirona, while her
husband was sacrificing to Mithras, to fetch some wine for my father,
and she allowed me to try on the centurion’s armor; when he unexpectedly
returned I leaped out into the street and forgot that luckless
sheepskin. Paulus met me as I fled, and said he would set it all right,
and sent me away--to take my place and save my father a great trouble.
Look at me as severely as you will, Dorothea, but it was only in
thoughtless folly that I slipped into the Gaul’s house that evening,
and by the memory of my father--of whom heaven has this day bereft me--I
swear that Sirona only amused herself with me as with a boy, a child,
and even refused to let me kiss her beautiful golden hair. As surely as
I hope to become a warrior, and as surely as my father’s spirit hears
what I say, the guilt that Paulus took upon himself was never committed
at all, and when you condemned Sirona you did an injustice, for she
never broke her faith to her husband for me, nor still less for Paulus.”

Petrus and Dorothea exchanged a meaning glance, and Dorothea said:

“Why have we to learn all this from the lips of a stranger? It sounds
very extraordinary, and yet how simple! Aye, husband, it would have
become us better to guess something of this than to doubt Sirona. From
the first it certainly seemed to me impossible that that handsome woman,
for whom quite different people had troubled themselves should err for
this queer beggar--”

“What cruel injustice has fallen on the poor man!” cried Petrus. “If he
had boasted of some noble deed, we should indeed have been less ready to
give him credence.”

“We are suffering heavy punishment,” sighed Dorothea, “and my heart is
bleeding. Why did you not come to us, Hermas, if you wanted wine? How
much suffering would have been spared if you had!”

The lad looked down, and was silent; but soon he recollected himself,
and said eagerly:

“Let me go and seek the hapless Paulus; I return you thanks for your
kindness but I cannot bear to stay here any longer. I must go back to
the mountain.”

The senator and his wife did not detain him, and when the court-yard
gate had closed upon him a great stillness reigned in Petrus’
sitting-room. Dorothea leaned far back in her seat and sat looking in
her lap while the tears rolled over her cheeks; Marthana held her hand
and stroked it, and the senator stepped to the window and sighed deeply
as he looked down into the dark court. Sorrow lay on all their hearts
like a heavy leaden burden. All was still in the spacious room, only now
and then a loud, long-drawn cry of the wailing women rang through the
quiet night and reached them through the open window; it was a heavy
hour, rich in vain, but silent self-accusation, in anxiety, and short
prayers; poor in hope or consolation.

Presently Petrus heaved a deep sigh, and Dorothea rose to go up to him
and to say to him some sincere word of affection; but just then the
dogs in the yard barked, and the agonized father said softly--in deep
dejection, and prepared for the worst:

“Most likely it is they.”

The deaconess pressed his hand in hers, but drew back when a light tap
was heard at the court-yard gate. “It is not Jethro and Antonius.” said
Petrus, “they have a key.”

Marthana had gone up to him, and she clung to him as he leaned far out
of the window and called to whoever it was that had tapped:

“Who is that knocking?”

The dogs barked so loud that neither the senator nor the women were able
to hear the answer which seemed to be returned.

“Listen to Argus,” said Dorothea, “he never howls like that, but when
you come home or one of us, or when he is pleased.”

Petrus laid his finger on his lips and sounded a clear, shrill whistle,
and as the dogs, obedient to this signal, were silent, he once more
called out, “Whoever you may be, say plainly who you are, that I may
open the gate.”

They were kept waiting some few minutes for the answer, and the senator
was on the point of repeating his enquiry, when a gentle voice timidly
came from the gate to the window, saying, “It is I, Petrus, the fugitive
Sirona.” Hardly had the words tremulously pierced the silence, when
Marthana broke from her father, whose hand was resting on her shoulder,
and flew out of the door, down the steps and out to the gate.

“Sirona; poor, dear Sirona,” cried the girl as she pushed back the bolt;
as soon as she had opened the door and Sirona had entered the court, she
threw herself on her neck, and kissed and stroked her as if she were her
long lost sister found again; then, without allowing her to speak, she
seized her hand and drew her--in spite of the slight resistance she
offered--with many affectionate exclamations up the steps and into the
sitting-room. Petrus and Dorothea met her on the threshold, and the
latter pressed her to her heart, kissed her forehead and said, “Poor
woman; we know now that we have done you an injustice, and will try to
make it good.” The senator too went up to her, took her hand and added
his greetings to those of his wife, for he knew not whether she had as
yet heard of her husband’s end.

Sirona could not find a word in reply. She had expected to be expelled
as a castaway when she came down the mountain, losing her way in the
darkness. Her sandals were cut by the sharp rocks, and hung in strips to
her bleeding feet, her beautiful hair was tumbled by the night-wind, and
her white robe looked like a ragged beggar’s garment, for she had torn
it to make bandages for Polykarp’s wound.

Some hours had already passed since she had left her patient--her heart
full of dread for him and of anxiety as to the hard reception she might
meet with from his parents.

How her hand shook with fear of Petrus and Dorothea as she raised the
brazen knocker of the senator’s door, and now--a father, a mother, a
sister opened their arms to her, and an affectionate home smiled upon
her. Her heart and soul overflowed with boundless emotion and unlimited
thankfulness, and weeping loudly, she pressed her clasped hands to her
breast.

But she spared only a few moments for the enjoyment of these feelings of
delight, for there was no happiness for her without Polykarp, and it
was for his sake that she had undertaken this perilous night-journey.
Marthana had tenderly approached her, but she gently put her aside,
saying, “Not just now, dear girl. I have already wasted an hour, for
I lost my way in the ravines. Get ready Petrus to come back to the
mountain with me at once, for--but do not be startled Dorothea, Paulus
says that the worst danger is over, and if Polykarp--”

“For God’s sake, do you know where he is?” cried Dorothea, and her
cheeks crimsoned while Petrus turned pale, and, interrupting her, asked
in breathless anxiety, “Where is Polykarp, and what has happened to
him?”

“Prepare yourself to hear bad news,” said Sirona, looking at the pair
with mournful anxiety as if to crave their pardon for the evil tidings
she was obliged to bring. “Polykarp had a fall on a sharp stone and so
wounded his head. Paulus brought him to me this morning before he set
out against the Blemmyes, that I might nurse him. I have incessantly
cooled his wound, and towards mid-day he opened his eyes and knew me
again, and said you would be anxious about him. After sundown he went to
sleep, but he is not wholly free from fever, and as soon as Paulus
came in I set out to quiet your anxiety and to entreat you to give me a
cooling potion, that I may return to him with it at once.” The deepest
sorrow sounded in Sirona’s accents as she told her story, and tears
had started to her eyes as she related to the parents what had befallen
their son. Petrus and Dorothea listened as to a singer, who, dressed
indeed in robes of mourning, nevertheless sings a lay of return and hope
to a harp wreathed with flowers.

“Quick, quick, Marthana,” cried Dorothea eagerly and with sparkling
eyes, before Sirona had ended. “Quick, the basket with the bandages. I
will mix the fever-draught myself.” Petrus went up to the Gaulish woman.

“It is really no worse than you represent?” he asked in a low voice. “He
is alive? and Paulus--”

“Paulus says,” interrupted Sirona, “that with good nursing the sick man
will be well in a few weeks.”

“And you can lead me to him?”

“Oh, alas! alas!” Sirona cried, striking her hand against her forehead.
“I shall never succeed in finding my way back, for I noticed no
way-marks! But stay--Before us a penitent from Memphis, who has been
dead a few weeks--”

“Old Serapion?” asked Petrus.

“That was his name,” exclaimed Sirona. “Do you know his cave?”

“How should I?” replied Petrus. “But perhaps Agapitus--”

“The spring where I got the water to cool Polykarp’s wound, Paulus calls
the partridge’s-spring.”

“The partridge’s-spring,” repeated the senator, “I know that.” With a
deep sigh he took his staff, and called to Dorothea, “Do you prepare the
draught, the bandages, torches, and your good litter, while I knock at
our neighbor Magadon’s door, and ask him to lend us slaves.”

“Let me go with you,” said Marthana. “No, no; you stay here with your
mother.”

“And do you think that I can wait here?” asked Dorothea. “I am going
with you.”

“There is much here for you to do,” replied Petrus evasively, “and we
must climb the hill quickly.”

“I should certainly delay you,” sighed the mother, “but take the girl
with you; she has a light and lucky hand.”

“If you think it best,” said the senator, and he left the room.

While the mother and daughter prepared everything for the
night-expedition, and came and went, they found time to put many
questions and say many affectionate words to Sirona. Marthana, even
without interrupting her work, set food and drink for the weary woman on
the table by which she had sunk on a seat; but she hardly moistened her
lips.

When the young girl showed her the basket that she had filled with
medicine and linen bandages, with wine and pure water, Sirona said, “Now
lend me a pair of your strongest sandals, for mine are all torn, and I
cannot follow the men without shoes, for the stones are sharp, and cut
into the flesh.”

Marthana now perceived for the first time the blood on her friend’s
feet, she quickly took the lamp from the table and placed it on the
pavement, exclaiming, as she knelt down in front of Sirona and took her
slender white feet in her hand to look at the wounds on the soles, “Good
heavens! here are three deep cuts!”

In a moment she had a basin at hand, and was carefully bathing the
wounds in Sirona’s feet; while she was wrapping the injured foot in
strips of linen Dorothea came up to them.

“I would,” she said, “that Polykarp were only here now, this roll would
suffice to bind you both.” A faint flush overspread Sirona’s cheeks,
but Dorothea was suddenly conscious of what she had said, and Marthana
gently pressed her friend’s hand.

When the bandage was securely fixed, Sirona attempted to walk, but
she succeeded so badly that Petrus, who now came back with his friend
Magadon and his sons, and several slaves, found it necessary to strictly
forbid her to accompany them. He felt sure of finding his son without
her, for one of Magadon’s people had often carried bread and oil to old
Serapion and knew his cave.

Before the senator and his daughter left the room he whispered a few
words to his wife, and together they went up to Sirona.

“Do you know,” he asked, “what has happened to your husband?”

Sirona nodded. “I heard it from Paulus,” she answered. “Now I am quite
alone in the world.”

“Not so,” replied Petrus. “You will find shelter and love under our roof
as if it were your father’s, so long as it suits you to stay with us.
You need not thank us--we are deeply in your debt. Farewell till we meet
again wife. I would Polykarp were safe here, and that you had seen his
wound. Come, Marthana, the minutes are precious.”

When Dorothea and Sirona were alone, the deaconess said, “Now I will go
and make up a bed for you, for you must be very tired.”

“No, no!” begged Sirona. “I will wait and watch with you, for I
certainly could not sleep till I know how it is with him.” She spoke so
warmly and eagerly that the deaconess gratefully offered her hand to her
young friend. Then she said, “I will leave you alone for a few minutes,
for my heart is so full of anxiety that I must needs go and pray for
help for him, and for courage and strength for myself.”

“Take me with you,” entreated Sirona in a low tone. “In my need I opened
my heart to your good and loving God, and I will never more pray to any
other. The mere thought of Him strengthened and comforted me, and now,
if ever, in this hour I need His merciful support.”

“My child, my daughter!” cried the deaconess, deeply moved; she bent
over Sirona, kissed her forehead and her lips, and led her by the hand
into her quiet sleeping-room.

“This is the place where I most love to pray,” she said, “although there
is here no image and no altar. My God is everywhere present and in every
place I can find Him.”

The two women knelt down side by side, and both besought the same God
for the same mercies--not for themselves, but for another; and both
in their sorrow could give thanks--Sirona, because in Dorothea she had
found a mother, and Dorothea, because in Sirona she had found a dear and
loving daughter.



CHAPTER XXII.

Paulus was sitting in front of the cave that had sheltered Polykarp and
Sirona, and he watched the torches whose light lessened as the bearers
went farther and farther towards the valley. They lighted the way for
the wounded sculptor, who was being borne home to the oasis, lying in
his mother’s easy litter, and accompanied by his father and his sister.

“Yet an hour,” thought the anchorite, “and the mother will have her son
again, yet a week and Polykarp will rise from his bed, yet a year and he
will remember nothing of yesterday but a scar--and perhaps a kiss that
he pressed on the Gaulish woman’s rosy lips. I shall find it harder to
forget. The ladder which for so many years I had labored to construct,
on which I thought to scale heaven, and which looked to me so lofty and
so safe, there it lies broken to pieces, and the hand that struck it
down was my own weakness. It would almost seem as if this weakness of
mine had more power than what we call moral strength for that which it
took the one years to build up, was wrecked by the other in a’ moment.
In weakness only am I a giant.”

Paulus shivered at these words, for he was cold. Early in that morning
when he had taken upon himself Hermas’ guilt he had abjured wearing his
sheepskin; now his body, accustomed to the warm wrap, suffered severely,
and his blood coursed with fevered haste through his veins since the
efforts, night-watches, and excitement of the last few days. He drew his
little coat close around him with a shiver and muttered, “I feel like a
sheep that has been shorn in midwinter, and my head burns as if I were a
baker and had to draw the bread out of the oven; a child might knock me
down, and my eyes are heavy. I have not even the energy to collect
my thoughts for a prayer, of which I am in such sore need. My goal is
undoubtedly the right one, but so soon as I seem to be nearing it, my
weakness snatches it from me, as the wind swept back the fruit-laden
boughs which Tantalus, parched with thirst, tried to grasp. I fled from
the world to this mountain, and the world has pursued me and has flung
its snares round my feet. I must seek a lonelier waste in which I may be
alone--quite alone with my God and myself. There, perhaps I may find
the way I seek, if indeed the fact that the creature that I call ‘I,’ in
which the whole world with all its agitations in little finds room--and
which will accompany me even there--does not once again frustrate all my
labor. He who takes his Self with him into the desert, is not alone.”

Paulus sighed deeply and then pursued his reflections: “How puffed up
with pride I was after I had tasted the Gaul’s rods in place of Hermas,
and then I was like a drunken man who falls down stairs step by step.
And poor Stephanus too had a fall when he was so near the goal! He
failed in strength to forgive, and the senator who has just now left me,
and whose innocent son I had so badly hurt, when we parted forgivingly
gave me his hand. I could see that he did forgive me with all his heart,
and this Petrus stands in the midst of life, and is busy early and late
with mere worldly affairs.”

For a time he looked thoughtfully before him, and then he went on in his
soliloquy, “What was the story that old Serapion used to tell? In the
Thebaid there dwelt a penitent who thought he led a perfectly saintly
life and far transcended all his companions in stern virtue. Once
he dreamed that there was in Alexandria a man even more perfect than
himself; Phabis was his name, and he was a shoemaker, dwelling in the
White road near the harbor of Kibotos. The anchorite at once went to
the capital and found the shoemaker, and when he asked him, ‘How do you
serve the Lord? How do you conduct your life?’ Phabis looked at him in
astonishment. ‘I? well, my Saviour! I work early and late, and provide
for my family, and pray morning and evening in few words for the whole
city.’ Petrus, it seems to me, is such an one as Phabis; but many roads
lead to God, and we--and I--”

Again a cold shiver interrupted his meditation, and as morning
approached the cold was so keen that he endeavored to light a fire.
While he was painfully blowing the charcoal Hermas came up to him.

He had learned from Polykarp’s escort where Paulus was to be found, and
as he stood opposite his friend he grasped his hand, stroked his
rough hair and thanked him with deep and tender emotion for the great
sacrifice he had made for him when he had taken upon himself the
dishonoring punishment of his fault.

Paulus declined all pity or thanks, and spoke to Hermas of his father
and of his future, until it was light, and the young man prepared to go
down to the oasis to pay the last honors to the dead. To his entreaty
that he would accompany him, Paulus only answered:

“No--no; not now, not now; for if I were to mix with men now I should
fly asunder like a rotten wineskin full of fermenting wine; a swarm of
bees is buzzing in my head, and an ant-hill is growing in my bosom. Go
now and leave me alone.”

After the funeral ceremony Hermas took an affectionate leave of
Agapitus, Petrus, and Dorothea, and then returned to the Alexandrian,
with whom he went to the cave where he had so long lived with his dead
father.

There Paulus delivered to him his father’s letter to his uncle, and
spoke to him more lovingly than he had ever done before. At night they
both lay down on their beds, but neither of them found rest or sleep.

From time to time Paulus murmured in a low voice, but in tones of keen
anguish, “In vain--all in vain--” and again, “I seek, I seek--but who
can show me the way?”

They both rose before daybreak; Hermas went once more down to the well,
knelt down near it, and felt as though he were bidding farewell to his
father and Miriam.

Memories of every kind rose up in his soul, and so mighty is the
glorifying power of love that the miserable, brown-skinned shepherdess
Miriam seemed to him a thousand-fold more beautiful than that splendid
woman who filled the soul of a great artist with delight.

Shortly after sunrise Paulus conducted him to the fishing-port, and to
the Israelite friend who managed the business of his father’s house; he
caused him to be bountifully supplied with gold and accompanied him to
the ship laden with charcoal, that was to convey hire to Klysma.

The parting was very painful to him, and when Hermas saw his eyes full
of tears and felt his hands tremble, he said, “Do not be troubled about
me, Paulus; we shall meet again, and I will never forget you and my
father.”

“And your mother,” added the anchorite. “I shall miss you sorely, but
trouble is the very thing I look for. He who succeeds in making the
sorrows of the whole world his own--he whose soul is touched by a
sorrow at every breath he draws--he indeed must long for the call of the
Redeemer.”

Hermas fell weeping on his neck and started to feel how burning the
anchorite’s lips were as he pressed them to his forehead.

At last the sailors drew in the ropes; Paulus turned once more to the
youth. “You are going your own way now,” he said. “Do not forget the
Holy Mountain, and hear this: Of all sins three are most deadly: To
serve false gods, to covet your neighbor’s wife, and to raise your hands
to kill; keep yourself from them. And of all virtues two are the
least conspicuous, and at the same time the greatest: Truthfulness and
humility; practise these. Of all consolations these two are the best:
The consciousness of wishing the right however much we may err and
stumble through human weakness, and prayer.”

Once more he embraced the departing youth, then he went across the sand
of the shore back to the mountain without looking round.

Hermas looked after him for a long time greatly distressed, for his
strong friend tottered like a drunken man, and often pressed his hand to
his head which was no doubt as burning as his lips.

The young warrior never again saw the Holy Mountain or Paulus, but after
he himself had won fame and distinction in the army he met again with
Petrus’ son, Polykarp, whom the emperor had sent for to Byzantium with
great honor, and in whose house the Gaulish woman Sirona presided as a
true and loving wife and mother.

After his parting from Hermas, Paulus disappeared. The other anchorites
long sought him in vain, as well as bishop Agapitus, who had learned
from Petrus that the Alexandrian had been punished and expelled in
innocence, and who desired to offer him pardon and consolation in his
own person. At last, ten days after, Orion the Saite found him in a
remote cave. The angel of death had called him only a few hours before
while in the act of prayer, for he was scarcely cold. He was kneeling
with his forehead against the rocky wall and his emaciated hands were
closely clasped over Magdalena’s ring. When his companions had laid him
on his bier his noble, gentle features wore a pure and transfiguring
smile.

The news of his death flew with wonderful rapidity through the oasis and
the fishing-town, and far and wide to the caves of the anchorites,
and even to the huts of the Amalekite shepherds. The procession that
followed him to his last resting-place stretched to an invisible
distance; in front of all walked Agapitus with the elders and deacons,
and behind them Petrus with his wife and family, to which Sirona now
belonged. Polykarp, who was now recovering, laid a palm-branch in token
of reconcilement on his grave, which was visited as a sacred spot by the
many whose needs he had alleviated in secret, and before long by all the
penitents from far and wide.

Petrus erected a monument over his grave, on which Polykarp incised the
words which Paulus’ trembling fingers had traced just before his death
with a piece of charcoal on the wall of his cave:

“Pray for me, a miserable man--for I was a man.”


     ETEXT EDITOR’S BOOKMARKS:

     Action trod on the heels of resolve
     Can such love be wrong?
     He who wholly abjures folly is a fool
     He out of the battle can easily boast of being unconquered
     Homo sum; humani nil a me alienum puto
     I am human, nothing that is human can I regard as alien to me
     Love is at once the easiest and the most difficult
     Love overlooks the ravages of years and has a good memory
     No judgment is so hard as that dealt by a slave to slaves
     No man is more than man, and many men are less
     Overlooks his own fault in his feeling of the judge’s injustice
     Pray for me, a miserable man--for I was a man
     Sky as bare of cloud as the rocks are of shrubs and herbs
     Sleep avoided them both, and each knew that the other was awake
     Some caution is needed even in giving a warning
     The older one grows the quicker the hours hurry away
     To pray is better than to bathe
     Wakefulness may prolong the little term of life
     Who can point out the road that another will take





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translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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