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The Lost Word

II. A Christmas Loss
HERMAS found the Grove of Daphne quite deserted. There was no sound in the
enchanted vale but the rustling of the light winds chasing each other through the laurel
thickets, and the babble of innumerable streams. Memories of the days and nights of
delicate pleasure that the grove had often seen still haunted the bewildered paths and
broken fountains. At the foot of a rocky eminence, crowned with the ruins of Apollo's
temple, which had been mysteriously destroyed by fire just after Julian had restored and
reconsecrated it, Hermas sat down beside a gushing spring, and gave himself up to
sadness.
"How beautiful the world would be, how joyful, how easy to live in, without religion.
These questions about unseen things, perhaps about unreal things, these restraints and
duties and sacrifices--if I were only free from them all, and could only forget them all,
then I could live my life as I pleased, and be happy."
"Why not?" said a quiet voice at his back.
He turned, and saw an old man with a long beard and a threadbare cloak (the garb
affected by the pagan philosophers) standing behind him and smiling curiously.
"How is it that you answer that which has not been spoken?" said Hermas; "and who are
you that honour me with your company?"
"Forgive the intrusion," answered the stranger; "it is not ill meant. A friendly interest is as
good as an introduction."
"But to what singular circumstance do I owe this interest?"
"To your face," said the old man, with a courteous inclination. "Perhaps also a little to the
fact that I am the oldest inhabitant here, and feel as if all visitors were my guests, in a
way"
"Are you, then, one of the keepers of the grove? And have you given up your work with
the trees to take a holiday as a philosopher?"
"Not at all. The robe of philosophy is a mere affectation, I must confess. I think little of
it. My profession is the care of altars. In fact, I am that solitary priest of Apollo whom the
Emperor Julian found here when he came to revive the worship of the grove, some
twenty years ago. You have heard of the incident?"
"Yes," said Hermas, beginning to be interested; "the whole city must have heard of it, for
it is still talked of. But surely it was a strange sacrifice that you brought to celebrate the
restoration of Apollo's temple?"
 
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