« ÎnapoiContinuă »
panions have been safe and happy in His guidance, thou hast followed only the wayward influences of thy degenerate will, and now thou art in great danger. Nay, if thou dost not listen to me, thou art lost for ever!"
At these words Mondano trembled and turned pale; he looked for his wreath, which a few moments before had been gay with many a flower, as if to show that he had not been quite idle, but the cold wind which blew from the forest had withered the blossoms, and their dark, discoloured leaves were scattered at his feet.
"I meant not," he said, as if he wished to extenuate his conduct, "I never meant to join the company of those who frequent yonder broad path. I mean to walk through the forest, which will surely lead me to the foot of that hill, towards which we were told to journey, and where I hope to rejoin my companions."
"Deluded boy!" exclaimed the minister, "for one path which leads from yonder forest towards the road of the hills of salvation, there are forty which will lead thee, by a secret course, into the path of hopeless ruin; and each of those paths which would conduct thee aright, are even more difficult of ascent than this one." And he pointed to the rocks above them..
Mondano shuddered as he looked up. "I see no path," he replied.
"Even so," said his guide; "thou didst wilfully forsake the path; thou must seek it now with many tears and prayers, and earnest labours. If thou wilt yet listen to me, thou mayest be saved."
Then I saw with joy that the boy seemed awed by the solemn words which were addressed to him; he sought to fling away his withered wreath, and said he would form a new one; but I perceived that the blackened stalks clung to his hand, and he could not free himself from them.
"Thou canst not indeed shake off these weeds so easily," added the minister; "it must be thy care now to gather immortal blossoms, and if thou shouldest continue in the right path, there will come a day when thou shalt be freed from these unsightly bindweeds; but not yet."
Then he took the boy by the hand, and led him up the hill. Often would he have fallen, and turned back willingly into the dangerous path, but for the presence of his conductor. His feet, accustomed to the smooth surface of the grass, were easily wounded by the rough stones. His footsteps were faltering and uncertain, so that he could not walk with any composure; nor could he often gather such of the everlasting flowers as grew within his reach, as his eye, accustomed to more gaudy colouring, seldom perceived them. Still, he had plucked some of them, and, by degrees, his footing became firmer; while his robe, so stained with the weeds
of the path he had trodden, had contracted fewer stains in his weary ascent of the hill, though he often stumbled and fell down, than in one hour of his progress through the luxurious valley.
His guide remained with him until he had passed the most dangerous part of the rocky way, and had gained a path which conducted, in a straight, up-hill direction, to the foot of the mountain whereon the Cross was reared, and which Credo and Carità had ascended long before. He then left him, with many and earnest warnings not to wander from the path in which he had placed him; bidding him turn his eye from the soft, enchanting prospect of the valley which lay beneath him, and fix it on the Cross, which was now not far distant. He told him, too, that his little companions, who had reached that hill before him, were now walking in a valley far lovelier than that which had seduced him from the right way; for that the LORD of the garden had expressly formed numerous lovely resting-places and flowery glades, for the. refreshment of those who were passing through it. And that those who did not seek them for themselves, but steadfastly journeyed in the right direction, would find sweeter rest and pleasure in these lawful and permitted enjoyments, than was ever experienced by those who sought them in defiance of the directions given to them.
I ceased to observe Mondano after his guide had left him, preferring to contemplate the happy little group whom he had described as walking in green pastures. And truly it was a pleasant sight to see them twining in their wreaths the flowers which grew in abundance beside the still waters which glided on either side of their path, cheering the way with songs of love and joy; reposing from the chill night wind beneath some sheltering bower by the road side, or whiling away the sultry hours of mid-day beneath the shade of some ancient tree.
I observed that the children had the same characteristics as before. Carità would fold the little ones in her embrace, and Credo would point them to the golden light which shone faintly in the eastern sky, and towards which they were travelling. I per ceived, too, that the little party had increased, for Carità had found many little stragglers by the way, whom she was conducting with equal care and love; and Credo was the faithful leader of all. It was he who reminded them to seek the assistance of their Invisible Guide, to pass by the lovely, yet frail, flowers, and pluck only of those which would live for ever. It was he who, when their feet were sore with a long day's walking, would, after carefully considering the map, encourage them to persevere till they came to some resting-place on the straight path; for sometimes Carità would have permitted the little ones to wander a few steps aside, in search of some cool stream or nearer rest, but Credo always pointed onward, and the others followed trustingly.
One thing perplexed me, viz., that since the children's way had
led through this sweet vale, I perceived that, in some of their wreaths, especially in that of Carità, and of some of the younger ones, there were to be found many of the bright flowers which belonged only to the garden, and that few of them had withered, or lost their leaves, though they had been gathered some time. Then I looked more closely, and I perceived that, when any of the children had plucked eagerly one of these delicate blossoms, it had withered as soon; but that when they stooped, as Carità almost always did, to secure the immortal flowers, many of these passing beauties were lightly clinging to their stalks, and thus became interwoven with their wreaths, almost unconsciously to the children; and being so lightly grasped, and twining loosely round the stems of the plants that had bloomed amongst them, they preserved their beauty longer; and also, when they did wither, they dropped almost unobserved one by one to the ground, and as they had not been bound up in the wreaths, they fell without leaving any withered remains among the flowers.
There was one species of plant among the everlasting flowers which was of a hue so deep, yet clear, that it reflected on its blue petals the rays of the glory that streamed from the distant east. This was the flower that Credo loved most; and often he would plunge into a deep stream, or climb a rugged precipice, in order to obtain one of its blossoms. I marked, too, that Credo was the most earnest in his supplications for the presence of their unseen Benefactor, and that he wept the most heartfelt tears over any defilement which had come in contact with his robe, and left a stain upon its purity. I remembered the words I had heard before," The children must remain here till they learn once more to love the flowers of Paradise,”—and I thought, surely little Credo will not be long a pilgrim in this garden! and behold, my conjecture was right! for, one evening, as the children laid them down to repose, a thick white mist arose, as if it came from a distant river, and it settled over the spot where they were lying. Then were they much alarmed, but Credo bade them be of good cheer, and observed that no mnist could be the work of an enemy, if it did not hide from their eyes the light which streamed from the east, or dim the lustre of the cross which was signed on each brow. And when they looked on Credo, they saw that his cross was shining with unusual light, and while they were speaking, behold two shining beings advanced towards Credo, and the child arose, for he knew wherefore they were come; and he dropped his flower wreath, and knelt down on the ground, with his hands clasped, and his eyes fixed on the distant light. Then did Carità begin to weep bitterly, and the little ones mingled their tears with hers; for they knew that their beloved companion was about to be taken from them for a time. And the sound of their weeping distressed the kneeling child, and he stretched out his hands towards
them, and embraced them tenderly, and then once more clasping Carità to his bosom, he besought for her, and for them, the presence of their unseen Comforter. Then the white mist gathered thicker and thicker around him, and he became cold and faint; but a calm, holy smile overspread his features, and then the angelic messengers approached nearer, and took the fainting child in their arms, and strains of sweet music were heard as they bore him away to the land of the light he had loved so well.
The little ones who were left were indeed desolate, and Carità could not lie down as usual to rest, but passed the night in sighs and tears, and, as I thought, secret communing with the Comforter, Whom Credo had implored for her; for she arose from her knees with a smile, though a sad one, on her pale face, and looked earnestly towards the light in the east, as if she saw, amidst its glories, a vision of him she had lost. And as I gazed too, I became aware that I was not alone; and, looking up, I saw that the same angelic being, who had formerly explained to me the position of the children in the garden, stood by my side. He touched my eyes, and bade me look in the direction of the light, of which the departed child had been so constantly mindful, and there, surrounded by glory such as no eye could fathom, and no tongue describe, I beheld once more the little pilgrim, himself a glorified being now. Near him stood the angels who had carried him from the garden to that blessed abode, and I could see that, as he bent in blissful adoration before a throne, so brilliant in glory that my eye could not pierce further than its lowest step, he cast down there the wreath he had dropped as worthless on earth, and which was changed to a crown of immortal beauty, though every flower remained the same that he had gathered while he trod the garden; and as he cast it down at the foot of the throne, I heard a sound of sweet music, and of many voices, with which no mortal harmony could be compared. And as the strain died on my ear, the vision passed away; and when I looked again around me, I saw only Carità kneeling on the spot where Credo had been taken from her, and the little ones, who were sleeping from sorrow, by her side.
Now, when I thought of the early removal of Credo, and of the blessedness into which he had been received, I shuddered when I thought of Mondano, and of how he, too, might be called away, to enter upon a very different part of the everlasting country. I turned to look for him, but alas! I found him not where his guide had left him, on the rocky path which led up to the Cross. It is true that he had not turned back into the valley, but he had quitted the road in which he had been placed for one lower down on the mountain, which presented a far more inviting appearance, as the soil was covered with soft grass, and here and there decked with flowers; and this he had done at the suggestion of a youth called
Professore, who had persuaded him to bear him company, and had assured him that he could incur no danger by walking in a path whence the cross might easily be seen, and which did not lead back into the valley; and as Professore spoke with scorn of those who walked there, and searched diligently for everlasting flowers, -of which, however, there were few to be found where he walked, -Mondano listened to him without suspicion. He remembered indeed the words of the minister, who warned him not to forsake the right path, whatever might be his temptation to do so; but he stifled the voice of conscience, and chose the easier way.
I perceived, with sorrow, that the path in which he now journeyed never led to the Cross, but round and round the mountain, until it ended at last in the forest, from which Mondano had once been rescued. His new companion had, like himself, grievously stained his robe, but had so disposed it, that the stains were not so easily remarked as on his own. They had not proceeded far on their journey, before they were met by a damsel called Avarizia, with whose company they seemed greatly pleased; and she presently led them still further from the Cross, by showing them a narrow lane, in which grew numbers of bright yellow flowers, like those with which she was already adorned. She showed them that these were not of so frail a nature as the flowers of the valley, though they belonged to the plants which grew only in the garden; nor could she deny that many of them were of a most poisonous nature: but she affirmed that they did not wither quickly, or become noxious as others which Mondano had previously gathered, and the poor boy was soon more in love with them than he had been with the bright colours of his former favourites, and forgot to search for the immortal blossoms. At times, indeed, he felt an uneasy suspicion that all was not well with him, and that his wreath was not one which he could present to his King; but he quieted his fears with the thought that he had once seen Carità gather of these yellow flowers, and that therefore it could not be wrong.
Carità, however, far from gathering them to form her wreath, as he did, had simply plucked them, in order to give them to the little ones, as their leaves, when bruised, were useful both for food and medicine; while Mondano never parted with one of his blossoms for these purposes, but gathered all he could, and bound them into his wreath. He never looked for the Cross now, or he would have perceived that he was fast losing sight of it. He scarcely even raised his eyes from the ground, or perhaps the sight of the dark forest-trees, which he was fast approaching, would have led him to pause and retrace his steps. I could not tell what were his thoughts, or whether he ever remembered the solemn words of his guide; but I fancied that I saw him shudder as he entered the forest, and felt again the chill air which had once