The Lost Word
VI. Great Fear And Recovered Joy
THEY carried the boy in a litter to the House of the Golden Pillars, summoning the most
skilful physician of Antioch to attend him. For hours the child was as quiet as death.
Hermas watched the white eyelids, folded close like lily-buds at night, even as one
watches for the morning. At last they opened; but the fire of fever was burning in the
eyes, and the lips were moving in a wild delirium.
Hour after hour that sweet childish voice rang through the halls and chambers of the
splendid, helpless house, now rising in shrill calls of distress and senseless laughter, now
sinking in weariness and dull moaning. The stars waxed and waned; the sun rose and set;
the roses bloomed and fell in the garden, the birds sang and slept among the jasmine-
bowers. But in the heart of Hermas there was no song, no bloom, no light--only
speechless anguish, and a certain fearful looking-for of desolation.
He was like a man in a nightmare. He saw the shapeless terror that was moving toward
him, but he was impotent to stay or to escape it. He had done all that he could. There was
nothing left but to wait.
He paced to and fro, now hurrying to the boy's bed as if he could not bear to be away
from it, now turning back as if he could not endure to be near it. The people of the house,
even Athenais, feared to speak to him, there was something so vacant and desperate in his
At nightfall, on the second of those eternal days, he shut himself in the library. The
unfilled lamp had gone out, leaving a trail of smoke in the air. The sprigs of mignonette
and rosemary, with which the room was sprinkled every day, were unrenewed, and
scented the gloom with a close odor of decay. A costly manuscript of Theocritus was
tumbled in disorder on the floor. Hermas sank into a chair like a man in whom the very
spring of being is broken. Through the darkness some one drew near. He did not even lift
his head. A hand touched him; a soft arm was laid over his shoulders. It was Athenais,
kneeling beside him and speaking very low:
"Hermas--it is almost over--the child! His voice grows weaker hour by hour. He moans
and calls for some one to help him; then he laughs. It breaks my heart. He has just fallen
asleep. The moon is rising now. Unless a change comes he cannot last till sunrise. Is there
nothing we can do? Is there no power that can save him? Is there no one to pity us and
spare us? Let us call, let us beg for compassion and help; let us pray for his life!"
Yes; that was what he wanted--that was the only thing that could bring relief: to pray; to
pour out his sorrow somewhere; to find a greater strength than his own, and cling to it
and plead for mercy and help. To leave that undone was to be false to his manhood; it
was to be no better than the dumb beasts when their young perish. How could he let his
boy suffer and die, without an effort, a cry, a prayer?