The Lost Word
III. Parting, But No Farewell
THERE is a slumber so deep that it annihilates time. It is like a fragment of eternity.
Beneath its enchantment of vacancy, a day seems like a thousand years, and a thousand
years might well pass as one day.
It was such a sleep that fell upon Hermas in the Grove of Daphne. An immeasurable
period, an interval of life so blank and empty that he could not tell whether it was long or
short, had passed over him when his senses began to stir again. The setting sun was
shooting arrows of gold under the glossy laurel-leaves. He rose and stretched his arms,
grasping a smooth branch above him and shaking it, to make sure that he was alive. Then
he hurried back toward Antioch, treading lightly as if on air.
The ground seemed to spring beneath his feet. Already his life had changed, he knew not
how. Something that did not belong to him had dropped away; he had returned to a
former state of being. He felt as if anything might happen to him, and he was ready for
anything. He was a new man, yet curiously familiar to himself--as if he had done with
playing a tiresome part and returned to his natural state. He was buoyant and free,
without a care, a doubt, a fear.
As he drew near to his father's house he saw a confusion of servants in the porch, and the
old steward ran down to meet him at the gate.
"Lord, we have been seeking you everywhere. The master is at the point of death, and has
sent for you. Since the sixth hour he calls your name continually. Come to him quickly,
lord, for I fear the time is short."
Hermas entered the house at once; nothing could amaze him to-day. His father lay on an
ivory couch in the inmost chamber, with shrunken face and restless eyes, his lean fingers
picking incessantly at the silken coverlet.
"My son!" he murmured; "Hermas, my son! It is good that you have come back to me. I
have missed you. I was wrong to send you away. You shall never leave me again. You
are my son, my heir. I have changed everything. Hermas, my son, come nearer--close
beside me. Take my hand, my son!"
The young man obeyed, and, kneeling by the couch, gathered his father's cold, twitching
fingers in his firm, warm grasp.
"Hermas, life is passing--long, rich, prosperous; the last sands, I--cannot stay them. My
religion, a good policy--Julian was my friend. But now he is gone--where? My soul is
empty--nothing beyond--very dark--I am afraid. But you know something better. You
found something that made you willing to give up your life for it--it must have been
almost like dying--yet you were happy. What was it you found? See, I am giving you