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A STORY

 

IN the garden all the apple-trees were in blossomThey had hurried up to get flowers before green leavesand in the farmyard all the ducklings were out and the cat with themhe licked real sunshinelicked it from his own pawsand if one looked along to the field the corn stood magnificently greenand there was a twittering and a chirping of all the little birds as if it were a great festival and indeed one might also say that it was so for it was Sunday The bells rang and people in their best clothes went to churchand looked so well pleasedyesthere was something so pleasant about everythingit was certainly a day so warm and blessed that one could say,“Our Lord is really very good to His people!”

But inside the church the priest stood in the pulpit and spoke very loudly and very angrily he said that the people were so ungodly and that God would punish them for it and when they died the wicked should go down to Hell where they should burn for ever and he said that their worm never diedand their fire was never quenched and never did they get peace or rest It was terrible to hear itand he said it so positively he de-scribed Hell to them as a stinking hole where all the world's filthiness flowed together there was no air except the hot sulfur-flame there was no bottom they sank and sank in an everlasting silence It was gruesome merely to listen to itbut the priest said it from the heartand all the people in the church were quite terrified

But outside all the little birds sang so happilyand the sun shone so warmly it seemed as if every little flower said,“God is so very good to all of us.”Yes outside it was certainly not as the preacher had said.

In the evening towards bedtime the clergyman saw his wife sitting silent and thoughtful

What ails yon?”he said to her

What ails me?”said she,“I cannot collect my thoughts properly I cannot get clearly into my head what you said that there were so many ungodly and that they should burn for ever for ever O how longI am only a sinful womanbut I could not bear to let even the worst sinner burn for everhow then should our Lord be able to do it who is so infinitely goodand who knows how the evil comes both from without and from within No I cannot think it even although you say it.”

It was autumn the leaves fell from the treesthe severe earnest priest sat by the deathbed of his wife

If any one should get peace in the grave and mercy from God it is you!” said the priest and he folded her hands and read a psalm over her body

And she was carried to her gravetwo heavy tears rolled down over the cheeks of the earnest priest and in his house it was quiet and lonely the sunshine was extinguished she had gone away

It was nighta cold wind blew over the head of the priesthe opened his eyesand it seemed as if the moon shone into his room but the moon was not shining it was a figure which stood before his bed he saw the ghost of his dead wifeshe looked at him sorrowfully it seemed as if she wanted to say something

And the man raised himself half upand stretched out his arms to her:“Have you not been granted eternal rest eitherDo you sufferyou the best the most pious?” And the departed one bowed her head for Yes”, and laid her hands on her breast

And can I obtain rest for you in the grave?”

Yes,”it answered him

And how?”

Give me a hair only a single hair from the head of the sinner whose fire will never be quenchedthe sinner whom God will thrust down into everlasting punishment.”

Yes so easily can you be set free you pure and pious soul!”

Then follow me!” said the departed.“It is so vouchsafed to us By my side you can float whither your thoughts willunseen by men we stand in their most secret 438corners but with steady hand you must point to the one consecrated to everlasting pain and before cockcrow he must be found

And quickly as if carried by thought they were in the great townand from the walls of the houses shone in letters of fire the names of the deadly sinsPrideAvarice Drunkenness Selfindulgencein short the whole sevenhued rainbow of sin

Yesin there as I thoughtas I knew,” said the priest,“dwell those who are destined for eternal fire.”And they stood before the gorgeously lighted portal where the broad stair was decorated with carpets and flowersand dance-music sounded through the festive hallsThe footman stood in silk and velvet with silvermounted stick

Our ball can compare with that of the king,” said he and he turned to the crowd on the street from top to toe the thought shone out of him,“Poor pack who stare in at the portal you are common people compared with meall of yon!”

Pride,” said the departed one.“Do you see him?”

Yes but he is a simpleton only a fooland will not be condemned to everlasting fire and pain!”

Only a fool sounded through the whole house of Pride they were all only foolsthere

And they flew within the four bare walls of Avaricewhere lean chattering with cold hungry and thirstythe old one clung to his gold with all his thoughtsthey saw how he sprang from his miserable couchas in a fever and took a loose stone out of the wall where goldmoney lay in a stoking-leghe fingered his patched coat into which gold pieces were sewn and the moist fingers trembled

He is illit is madnessa joyless madnessbeset with fear and evil dreams.”

And they departed in hasteand stood by the couchEs of the criminals where they slept in long rows side by side

Like a wild animal one of them started up out of his sleeputtering a horrid shriekhe dug his pointed elbow into his comrade who turned sleepily

Hold your tongue you blockheadand sleep!—it is the same every night!”

Every night,” he repeated,“yes every night he comes and howls and suffocates meIn passion have I done one thing and another an angry mind was I born with it has brought me here a second timebut if I have done wrongthen I have had my punishmentOnly one thing have I not acknowledged When I last came out of here and passed my master's farmone thing and another boiled up in me,—I scratched a sulfur match along the wall it ran a little too near the thatch of the roof everything burnedPassion came over it as it comes over meI helped to save the cattle and effectsNothing living was burned but a flock of pigeonswhich flew into the fireand the watch-dog I had not thought of it One could hear it howlingand that howl I always hear stillwhen I want to sleepand when I fall asleep then comes the dog so big and shaggy he lays himself on me howls presses meand suffocates me Then listen to what I tell you you can snore snore the whole night and I not a short quarter of an hour.” And the blood shone in his eyes he threw himself over his comrade and hit him with clenched fist in the face

Angry Ads has gone mad again!” was the cry round about and the other scoundrels caught hold of himwrestled with himand bent him so that his head sat between his legs where they bound it fastthe blood was almost springing out of his eyes and all his pores

You will kill him,”shouted the priest,“the miserable one!” And whilst he in order to hinder themstretched out his hand over the sinner who already in this world suffered too severelythe scene changedthey flew through rich halls and through poor rooms SelfIndusgeneEnvyall the deadly sins marched past theman angel of judgment read their sinstheir defensethis was but weak before Godbut God reads the heartsHe knows everything the evil which comes from within and from without He who is mercy and love The hand of the priest trembledhe dared not stretch it forth to pull a hair from the sinner's headAnd the tears streamed from his eyeslike the water of mercy and love which quench the ever-lasting fires of HellAnd the cock crew

Merciful GodThe will give her that rest in the gravewhich I have not been able to obtain.”

I have it now!”said the dead one,“it was they hard wordsthey dark belief about God and His workswhich drove me to theLearn to know meneven in the wicked there is something of Godsomething which will triumphand quench the fire of Hell.”

A kiss was pressed on the mouth of the priestlight beamed round about himGod's clear sun shone into the chamber where his wife gentle and loving wakened him from a dream sent by God

 


 

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