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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Child Of The Dawn - Chapter 24
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The Child Of The Dawn - Chapter 24 Post by :Prd2BHawn Category :Long Stories Author :Arthur C. Benson Date :May 2012 Read :2675

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The Child Of The Dawn - Chapter 24

CHAPTER XXIV.

"And now," said Amroth, "that we have been refreshed by the sight of this guileless place, and as our time is running short, I am going to show you something very serious indeed. In fact, before I show it you I must remind you carefully of one thing which I shall beg you to keep in mind. There is nothing either cruel or hopeless here; all is implacably just and entirely merciful. Whatever a soul needs, that it receives; and it receives nothing that is vindictive or harsh. The ideas of punishment on earth are hopelessly confused; we do not know whether we are revenging ourselves for wrongs done to us, or safeguarding society, or deterring would-be offenders, or trying to amend and uplift the criminal. We end, as a rule, by making every one concerned, whether punisher or punished, worse. We encourage each other in vindictiveness and hypocrisy, we cow and brutalise the transgressor. We rescue no one, we amend nothing. And yet we cannot read the clear signs of all this. The milder our methods of punishment become, the less crime is there to punish. But instead of being at once kind and severe, which is perfectly possible, we are both cruel and sentimental. Now, there is no such thing as sentiment here, just as there is no cruelty. There is emotion in full measure, and severity in full measure; no one is either pettishly frightened or mildly forgiven; and the joy that awaits us is all the more worth having, because it cannot be rashly enjoyed or reached by any short cuts; but do not forget, in what you now see, that the end is joy."

He spoke so solemnly that I was conscious of overmastering curiosity, not unmixed with awe. Again the way was abbreviated. Amroth took me by the hand and bade me close my eyes. The breeze beat upon my face for a moment. When I opened my eyes, we were on a bare hillside, full of stones, in a kind of grey and chilly haze which filled the air. Just ahead of us were some rough enclosures of stone, overlooked by a sort of tower. They were like the big sheepfolds which I have seen on northern wolds, into which the sheep of a whole hillside can be driven for shelter. We went round the wall, which was high and strong, and came to the entrance of the tower, the door of which stood open. There seemed to be no one about, no sign of life; the only sound a curious wailing note, which came at intervals from one of the enclosures, like the crying of a prisoned beast. We went up into the tower; the staircase ended in a bare room, with four apertures, one in each wall, each leading into a kind of balcony. Amroth led the way into one of the balconies, and pointed downwards. We were looking down into one of the enclosures which lay just at our feet, not very far below. The place was perfectly bare, and roughly flagged with stones. In the corner was a rough thatched shelter, in which was some straw. But what at once riveted my attention was the figure of a man, who half lay, half crouched upon the stones, his head in his hands, in an attitude of utter abandonment. He was dressed in a rough, weather-worn sort of cloak, and his whole appearance suggested the basest neglect; his hands were muscular and knotted; his ragged grey hair streamed over the collar of his cloak. While we looked at him, he drew himself up into a sitting posture, and turned his face blankly upon the sky. It was, or had been, a noble face enough, deeply lined, and with a look of command upon it; but anything like the hopeless and utter misery of the drawn cheeks and staring eyes I had never conceived. I involuntarily drew back, feeling that it was almost wrong to look at anything so fallen and so wretched. But Amroth detained me.

"He is not aware of us," he said, "and I desire you to look at him."

Presently the man rose wearily to his feet, and began to pace up and down round the walls, with the mechanical movements of a caged animal, avoiding the posts of the shelter without seeming to see them, and then cast himself down again upon the stones in a paroxysm of melancholy. He seemed to have no desire to escape, no energy, except to suffer. There was no hope about it all, no suggestion of prayer, nothing but blank and unadulterated suffering.

Amroth drew me back into the tower, and motioned me to the next balcony. Again I went out. The sight that I saw was almost more terrible than the first, because the prisoner here, penned in a similar enclosure, was more restless, and seemed to suffer more acutely. This was a younger man, who walked swiftly and vaguely about, casting glances up at the wall which enclosed him. Sometimes he stopped, and seemed to be pursuing some dreadful train of solitary thought; he gesticulated, and even broke out into mutterings and cries--the cries that I had heard from without. I could not bear to look at this sight, and coming back, besought Amroth to lead me away. Amroth, who was himself, I perceived, deeply moved, and stood with lips compressed, nodded in token of assent. We went quickly down the stairway, and took our way up the hill among the stones, in silence. The shapes of similar enclosures were to be seen everywhere, and the indescribable blankness and grimness of the scene struck a chill to my heart.

From the top of the ridge we could see the same bare valleys stretching in all directions, as far as the eye could see. The only other building in sight was a great circular tower of stone, far down in the valley, from which beat the pulse of some heavy machinery, which gave the sense, I do not know how, of a ghastly and watchful life at the centre of all.

"That is the Tower of Pain," said Amroth, "and I will spare you the inner sight of that. Only our very bravest and strongest can enter there and preserve any hope. But it is well for you to know it is there, and that souls have to enter it. It is thence that all the pain of countless worlds emanates and vibrates, and the governor of the place is the most tried and bravest of all the servants of God. Thither we must go, for you shall have sight of him, though you shall not enter."

We went down the hill with all the speed we might, and, I will confess it, with the darkest dismay I have ever experienced tugging at my heart. We were soon at the foot of the enormous structure. Amroth knocked at the gate, a low door, adorned with some vague and ghastly sculptures, things like worms and huddled forms drearily intertwined. The door opened, and revealed a fiery and smouldering light within. High up in the tower a great wheel whizzed and shivered, and moving shadows crossed and recrossed the firelit walls.

But the figure that came out to us--how shall I describe him? It was the most beautiful and gracious sight of all that I saw in my pilgrimage. He was a man of tall stature, with snow-white, silvery hair and beard, dressed in a dark cloak with a gleaming clasp of gold. But for all his age he had a look of immortal youth. His clear and piercing eye had a glance of infinite tenderness, such as I had never conceived. There were many lines upon his brow and round his eyes, but his complexion was as fresh as that of a child, and he stepped as briskly as a youth. We bowed low to him, and he reached out his hands, taking Amroth's hand and mine in each of his. His touch had a curious thrill, the hand that held mine being firm and smooth and wonderfully warm.

"Well, my children," he said in a clear, youthful voice, "I am glad to see you, because there are few who come hither willingly; and the old and weary are cheered by the sight of those that are young and strong. Amroth I know. But who are you, my child? You have not been among us long. Have you found your work and place here yet?" I told him my story in a few words, and he smiled indulgently. "There is nothing like being at work," he said. "Even my business here, which seems sad enough to most people, must be done; and I do it very willingly. Do not be frightened, my child," he said to me suddenly, drawing me nearer to him, and folding my arm beneath his own. "It is only on earth that we are frightened of pain; it spoils our poor plans, it makes us fretful and miserable, it brings us into the shadow of death. But for all that, as Amroth knows, it is the best and most fruitful of all the works that the Father does for man, and the thing dearest to His heart. We cannot prosper till we suffer, and suffering leads us very swiftly into joy and peace. Indeed this Tower of Pain, as it is called, is in fact nothing but the Tower of Love. Not until love is touched with pain does it become beautiful, and the joy that comes through pain is the only real thing in the world. Of course, when my great engine here sends a thrill into a careless life, it comes as a dark surprise; but then follow courage and patience and wonder, and all the dear tendance of Love. I have borne it all myself a hundred times, and I shall bear it again if the Father wills it. But when you leave me here, do not think of me as of one who works, grim and indifferent, wrecking lives and destroying homes. It is but the burning of the weeds of life; and it is as needful as the sunshine and the rain. Pain does not wander aimlessly, smiting down by mischance and by accident; it comes as the close and dear intention of the Father's heart, and is to a man as a trumpet-call from the land of life, not as a knell from the land of death. And now, dear children, you must leave me, for I have much to do. And I will give you," he added, turning to me, "a gift which shall be your comfort, and a token that you have been here, and seen the worst and the best that there is to see."

He drew from under his cloak a ring, a circlet of gold holding a red stone with a flaming heart, and put it on my finger. There pierced through me a pang intenser than any I had ever experienced, in which all the love and sorrow I had ever known seemed to be suddenly mingled, and which left behind it a perfect and intense sense of joy.

"There, that is my gift," he said, "and you shall have an old man's loving blessing too, for it is that, after all, that I live for." He drew me to him and kissed me on the brow, and in a moment he was gone.

We walked away in silence, and for my part with an elation of spirit which I could hardly control, a desire to love and suffer, and do and be all that the mind of man could conceive. But my heart was too full to speak.

"Come," said Amroth presently, "you are not as grateful as I had hoped--you are outgrowing me! Come down to my poor level for an instant, and beware of spiritual pride!" Then altering his tone he said, "Ah, yes, dear friend, I understand. There is nothing in the world like it, and you were most graciously and tenderly received--but the end is not yet."

"Amroth," I said, "I am like one intoxicated with joy. I feel that I could endure anything and never make question of anything again. How infinitely good he was to me--like a dear father!"

"Yes," said Amroth, "he is very like the Father "--and he smiled at me a mysterious smile.

"Amroth," I said, bewildered, "you cannot mean--?"

"No, I mean nothing," said Amroth, "but you have to-day looked very far into the truth, farther than is given to many so soon; but you are a child of fortune, and seem to please every one. I declare that a little more would make me jealous."

Presently, catching sight of one of the enclosures hard by, I said to Amroth, "But there are some questions I must ask. What has just happened had put it mostly out of my head. Those poor suffering souls that we saw just now--it is well, with them, I am sure, so near the Master of the Tower--he does not forget them, I am sure--but who are they, and what have they done to suffer so?"

"I will tell you," said Amroth, "for it is a dark business. Those two that you have seen--well, you will know one of them by name and fame, and of the other you may have heard. The first, that old shaggy-haired man, who lay upon the stones, that was ----"

He mentioned a name that was notorious in Europe at the time of my life on earth, though he was then long dead; a ruthless and ambitious conqueror, who poured a cataract of life away, in wars, for his own aggrandisement. Then he mentioned another name, a statesman who pursued a policy of terrorism and oppression, enriched himself by barbarous cruelty exercised in colonial possessions, and was famous for the calculated libertinism of his private life.

"They were great sinners," said Amroth, "and the sorrows they made and flung so carelessly about them, beat back upon them now in a surge of pain. These men were strangely affected, each of them, by the smallest sight or sound of suffering--a tortured animal, a crying child; and yet they were utterly ruthless of the pain that they did not see. It was a lack, no doubt, of the imagination of which I spoke, and which makes all the difference. And now they have to contemplate the pain which they could not imagine; and they have to learn submission and humility. It is a terrible business in a way--the loneliness of it! There used to be an old saying that the strongest man was the man that was most alone. But it was just because these men practised loneliness on earth that they have to suffer so. They used others as counters in a game, they had neither friend nor beloved, except for their own pleasure. They depended upon no one, needed no one, desired no one. But there are many others here who did the same on a small scale--selfish fathers and mothers who made homes miserable; boys who were bullies at school and tyrants in the world, in offices, and places of authority. This is the place of discipline for all base selfishness and vile authority, for all who have oppressed and victimised mankind."

"But," I said, "here is my difficulty. I understand the case of the oppressors well enough; but about the oppressed, what is the justice of that? Is there not a fortuitous element there, an interruption of the Divine plan? Take the case of the thousands of lives wasted by some brutal conqueror. Are souls sent into the world for that, to be driven in gangs, made to fight, let us say, for some abominable cause, and then recklessly dismissed from life?"

"Ah," said Amroth, "you make too much of the dignity of life! You do not know how small a thing a single life is, not as regards the life of mankind, but in the life of one individual. Of course if a man had but one single life on earth, it would be an intolerable injustice; and that is the factor which sets all straight, the factor which most of us, in our time of bodily self-importance, overlook. These oppressors have no power over other lives except what God allows, and bewildered humanity concedes. Not only is the great plan whole in the mind of God, but every single minutest life is considered as well. In the very case you spoke of, the little conscript, torn from his home to fight a tyrant's battles, hectored and ill-treated, and then shot down upon some crowded battle-field, that is precisely the discipline which at that point of time his soul needs, and the blessedness of which he afterwards perceives; sometimes discipline is swift and urgent, sometimes it is slow and lingering: but all experience is exactly apportioned to the quality of which each soul is in need. The only reason why there seems to be an element of chance in it, is that the whole thing is so inconceivably vast and prolonged; and our happiness and our progress alike depend upon our realising at every moment that the smallest joy and the most trifling pleasure, as well as the tiniest ailment or the most subtle sorrow, are just the pieces of experience which we are meant at that moment to use and make our own. No one, not even God, can force us to understand this; we have to perceive it for ourselves, and to live in the knowledge of it."

"Yes," I said, "it is true, all that. My heart tells me so; but it is very wonderful and mysterious, all the same. But, Amroth, I have seen and heard enough. My spirit desires with all its might to be at its own work, hastening on the mighty end. Now, I can hold no more of wonders. Let me return."

"Yes," said Amroth, "you are right! These wonders are so familiar to me that I forget, perhaps, the shock with which they come to minds unused to them. Yet there are other things which you must assuredly see, when the time comes; but I must not let you bite off a larger piece than you can swallow."

He took me by the hand; the breeze passed through my hair; and in an instant we were back at the fortress-gate, and I entered the beloved shelter, with a grateful sense that I was returning home.

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CHAPTER XXIII."Well," said Amroth, with a smile, as we went out into the forest, "I am afraid that the last two visits have been rather a strain. We must find something a little less serious; but I am going to fill up all your time. You had got too much taken up with your psychology, and we must not live too much on theory, and spin problems, like the spider, out of our own insides; but we will not spend too much time in trudging over this country, though it is well worth it. Did you ever see anything more beautiful
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