HOMO SUM - VOLUME 5.
HOMO SUM - VOLUME 5.
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
"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
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
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 be 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
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
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
"It is too late" sighed the anchorite. "If I only could--if I only
"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
"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 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.
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
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
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-
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 be 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
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
"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