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    Ch. 12 - A Story

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    Chapter 12
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    All the apple-trees in the garden had sprung out. They had made haste
    to get blossoms before they got green leaves; and all the ducklings
    were out in the yard--and the cat too! He was, so to speak, permeated
    by the sunshine; he licked it from his own paws; and if one looked
    towards the fields, one saw the corn standing so charmingly green! And
    there was such a twittering and chirping amongst all the small birds,
    just as if it were a great feast. And that one might indeed say it
    was, for it was Sunday. The bells rang, and people in their best
    clothes went to church, and looked so pleased. Yes, there was
    something so pleasant in everything: it was indeed so fine and warm a
    day, that one might well say: "Our Lord is certainly unspeakably good
    towards us poor mortals!"

    But the clergyman stood in the pulpit in the church, and spoke so loud
    and so angrily! He said that mankind was so wicked, and that God would
    punish them for it, and that when they died, the wicked went down into
    hell, where they would burn for ever; and he said that their worm
    would never die, and their fire never be extinguished, nor would they
    ever get rest and peace!

    It was terrible to hear, and he said it so determinedly. He described
    hell to them as a pestilential hole, where all the filthiness of the
    world flowed together. There was no air except the hot, sulphurous
    flames; there was no bottom; they sank and sank into everlasting
    silence! It was terrible, only to hear about it; but the clergyman
    said it right honestly out of his heart, and all the people in the
    church were quite terrified. But all the little birds outside the
    church sang so pleasantly, and so pleased, and the sun shone so
    warm:--it was as if every little flower said: "God is so wondrous good
    to us altogether!" Yes, outside it was not at all as the clergyman
    preached.

    In the evening, when it was bed-time, the clergyman saw his wife sit
    so still and thoughtful.

    "What ails you?" said he to her.

    "What ails me?" she replied; "what ails me is, that I cannot collect
    my thoughts rightly--that I cannot rightly understand what you said;
    that there were so many wicked, and that they should burn
    eternally!--eternally, alas, how long! I am but a sinful being; but I
    could not bear the thought in my heart to allow even the worst sinner
    to burn for ever. And how then should our Lord permit it? he who is so
    wondrously good, and who knows how evil comes both from without and
    within. No, I cannot believe it, though you say it."

    * * * * *

    It was autumn. The leaves fell from the trees; the grave, severe
    clergyman sat by the bedside of a dying person; a pious believer
    closed her eyes--it was the clergyman's own wife.

    "If any one find peace in the grave, and grace from God, then it is
    thou," said the clergyman, and he folded her hands, and read a psalm
    over the dead body.

    And she was borne to the grave: two heavy tears trickled down that
    stern man's cheeks; and it was still and vacant in the parsonage; the
    sunshine within was extinguished:--she was gone.

    It was night. A cold wind blew over the clergyman's head; he opened
    his eyes, and it was just as if the moon shone into his room. But the
    moon did not shine. It was a figure which stood before his bed--he saw
    the spirit of his deceased wife. She looked on him so singularly
    afflicted; it seemed as though she would say something.

    The man raised himself half erect in bed, and stretched his arms out
    towards her.

    "Not even to thee is granted everlasting peace. Thou dost suffer;
    thou, the best, the most pious!"

    And the dead bent her head in confirmation of his words, and laid her
    hand on her breast.

    "And can I procure you peace in the grave?"

    "Yes!" it sounded in his ear.

    "And how?"

    "Give me a hair, but a single hair of the head of that sinner, whose
    fire will never be quenched; that sinner whom God will cast down into
    hell, to everlasting torment."

    "Yes; so easily thou canst be liberated, thou pure, thou pious one!"
    said he.

    "Then follow me," said the dead; "it is so granted us. Thou canst be
    by my side, wheresoever thy thoughts will. Invisible to mankind, we
    stand in their most secret places; but thou must point with a sure
    hand to the one destined to eternal punishment, and ere the cock crow
    he must be found."

    And swift, as if borne on the wings of thought, they were in the great
    city, and the names of the dying sinners shone from the walls of the
    houses in letters of fire: "Arrogance, Avarice, Drunkenness,
    Voluptuousness;" in short, sin's whole seven-coloured arch.

    "Yes, in there, as I thought it, as I knew it," said the clergyman,
    "are housed those condemned to eternal fire."

    And they stood before the splendidly-illumined portico, where the
    broad stairs were covered with carpets and flowers, and the music of
    the dance sounded through the festal saloons. The porter stood there
    in silk and velvet, with a large silver-headed stick.

    "_Our_ ball can match with the King's," said he, and turned towards
    the crowd in the street--his magnificent thoughts were visible in his
    whole person. "Poor devils! who stare in at the portico, you are
    altogether ragamuffins, compared to me!"

    "Arrogance," said the dead; "dost thou see him?"

    "Him!" repeated the clergyman; "he is a simpleton--a fool only, and
    will not be condemned to eternal fire and torment."

    "A fool only," sounded through the whole house of Arrogance.

    And they flew into the four bare walls of Avarice, where skinny,
    meagre, shivering with cold, hungry and thirsty, the old man clung
    fast with all his thoughts to his gold. They saw how he, as in a
    fever, sprang from his wretched pallet, and took a loose stone out of
    the wall. There lay gold coins in a stocking-foot; he fumbled at his
    ragged tunic, in which gold coins were sewed fast, and his moist
    fingers trembled.

    "He is ill: it is insanity; encircled by fear and evil dreams."

    And they flew away in haste, and stood by the criminals' wooden couch,
    where they slept side by side in long rows. One of them started up
    from his sleep like a wild animal, and uttered a hideous scream: he
    struck his companion with his sharp elbow, and the latter turned
    sleepily round.

    "Hold your tongue, you beast, and sleep! this is your way every night!
    Every night!" he repeated; "yes, you come every night, howling and
    choking me! I have done one thing or another in a passion; I was born
    with a passionate temper, and it has brought me in here a second time;
    but if I have done wrong, so have I also got my punishment. But one
    thing I have not confessed. When I last went out from here, and passed
    by my master's farm, one thing and another boiled up in me, and I
    directly stroked a lucifer against the wall: it came a little too near
    the thatch, and everything was burnt--hot-headedness came over it,
    just as it comes over me, I helped to save the cattle and furniture.
    Nothing living was burnt, except a flock of pigeons: they flew into
    the flames, and the yard dog. I had not thought of the dog. I could
    hear it howl, and that howl I always hear yet, when I would sleep; and
    if I do get to sleep, the dog comes also--so large and hairy! He lies
    down on me, howls, and strangles me! Do but hear what I am telling
    you. Snore--yes, that you can--snore the whole night through, and I
    not even a quarter of an hour!"

    And the blood shone from the eyes of the fiery one; he fell on his
    companion, and struck him in the face with his clenched fist.

    "Angry Mads has become mad again!" resounded on all sides, and the
    other rascals seized hold of him, wrestled with him, and bent him
    double, so that his head was forced between his legs, where they bound
    it fast, so that the blood was nearly springing out of his eyes, and
    all the pores.

    "You will kill him!" said the clergyman,--"poor unfortunate!" and as
    he stretched his hands out over him, who had already suffered too
    severely, in order to prevent further mischief, the scene changed.

    They flew through rich halls, and through poor chambers;
    voluptuousness and envy, all mortal sins strode past them. A recording
    angel read their sin and their defence; this was assuredly little for
    God, for God reads the heart; He knows perfectly the evil that comes
    within it and from without, He, grace, all-loving kindness. The hand
    of the clergyman trembled: he did not venture to stretch it out, to
    pluck a hair from the sinner's head. And the tears streamed down from
    his eyes, like the waters of _grace_ and love, which quenched the
    eternal fire of hell.

    The cock then crowed.

    "Merciful God! Thou wilt grant her that peace in the grave which I
    have not been able to redeem."

    "That I now have!" said the dead; "it was thy hard words, thy dark,
    human belief of God and his creatures, which drove me to thee! Learn
    to know mankind; even in the bad there is a part of God--a part that
    will conquer and quench the fire of hell."

    And a kiss was pressed on the clergyman's lips:--it shone around him.
    God's clear, bright sun shone into the chamber, where his wife,
    living, mild, and affectionate, awoke him from a dream, sent from God!
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 12
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